Free Will Baptist School graduates 11


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ST. CROIX - Free Will Baptist Christian School graduated 11 students Friday night in a ceremony in the school's chapel filled with both laughter and reflection.

In her valedictory address, Lashonette Schjang acknowledged that while her classmates will, in time, forget her speech and much of evening's events, she implored them to never forget the moral and spiritual teachings they received at the school. She also encouraged them to not forget each other.

The celebratory night contained a sobering moment when it was revealed that Dave Radley, a teacher at the school, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer in August. Radley was on hand to deliver a special challenge to the graduates, which included him giving each student a large bottle of bubbles. He then encouraged them to "not let life get you down to the point where you don't like bubbles."

Of her road map to success, Schjang said remaining "passionate" about the things she wished to accomplish has guided her.

"Once I cared about something, then I would make sure it got completed … to the best of my abilities," she said.

Throughout her high school career, the use of the Internet had been Schjang's go-to method for conducting research for her assignments and she describes herself as a "very visual learner" who prefers to study alone.

"I would rewrite notes in bold colors, make flashcards to test myself and highlight things with colorful Post-it notes," she said.

Much like Schjang, salutatorian Cristina Gonzalez, 18, also prefers to study alone while listening to orchestral music. Her final year in high school proved to be challenging when in January she lost a beloved uncle.

"It was with his death that I was reminded of my reasons as to why I should strive to keep going on, all the while, doing the best I can," she said.

Schjang, who had been attending Free Will since the sixth grade, has also experienced similar tragedies during her senior year, namely the deaths of friends and several people whom she described as role models. However, she praised her teachers for helping her to succeed.

"I have been fortunate enough to have the best teachers anyone could ask for," she said.

"They not only inspired me, but they believed in me and pushed me to be my best."

Gonzalez encourages next year's seniors to read.

"Reading, on top of being a form of entertainment, helps a lot in building your vocabulary," she said.

On the other hand, Schjang said students should not be afraid of change.

"If you are offered the chance to do something different, do it, even if it may vaguely interest you," she said. "You never know what you will love or be good at until you try."

This fall, Schjang will attend George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she is the recipient of the Presidential Scholars scholarship, valued at $25,000 a year for four years. Gonzales will attend Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, and so far has received $15,800 in grants and scholarships.

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