The Pocahontas County High School National Honor Society welcomed new members at an induction ceremony Sunday. New members, front row, from left: Maria Workman, Ciera Wilfong, Hadden Mick, Savannah McMillion, Chloe Hardesty, Alan Gibson, Ty Cochran, Sienna Bircher, Dakin Rexrode, Thomas Smith, Brandon Burns, Emmalee Dean, Cassidy Hardesty, Emily Henderson, Jennalee Meck, Silas Riley and Cheylin Woodruff. Current members, back row, from left: Kelly Pyne, Colleen Buzzard, Charity Warder, Sage McLaughlin, Daphanie Duelley, Amelia Rose, Kira Bircher, Alexa Taylor, Kylian Dennison and Charity Morrison. S. Stewart photo

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

The Pocahontas County High School National Honor Society held its new class induction Sunday in the school’s auditorium. Nineteen juniors and seniors were selected because they exemplified the four qualities – Scholarship, Service, Leadership and Character.

The new members were welcomed into the organization by current members: president Daphanie Duelley, vice president Amelia Rose, secretary Kira Bircher, treasurer Sage McLaughlin, Colleen Buzzard, Kylian Dennison, Charity Morrison, Kelly Pyne, Alexa Taylor and Charity Warder.

As part of the ceremony, guest speaker Sarah Riley – a NHS member and PCHS alum – congratulated the students and shared words of encouragement.

Riley recalled a time when she was working with her son, J.J., using math flash cards, and he got frustrated and said, “I know what you’re trying to do; you’re trying to make me smart, and I won’t do it.”

“Well, he did do it, and like all of you, he went on to become a member of the National Honor Society and to graduate with honors from WVU a year and a half ago,” she said. “I’m sure there are times that you thought about giving up, about taking a zero on a homework assignment, or not really going the extra mile to study for your test. And I’m here to tell you – push through. Go the extra mile, every time.”

Many students move on to college after high school, and Riley had some insight to share from college professors with whom she works.

“As high schoolers, you need to take the hardest classes you can right up to the end,” she said. “College is a new level of challenge and many college freshmen in West Virginia report that they were overconfident going into college. They thought that they were well prepared and for many of them – like many of you – high school really wasn’t that hard.

“Challenge is essential to the growth and the strength that will propel you through college and your career – not only to make it through – but to rise,” she continued. “To rise as a leader on your campus and later in the workplace. Through consistently challenging yourselves, you will continue to sharpen your critical thinking, build your intellectual stamina, deepen your human empathy and genuinely become lifelong learners, innovators and change makers.”

Riley encouraged the students to remain in West Virginia, stating that it is possible to be successful in the state, if you are willing to put in the effort.

“I spent most of my time growing up in West Virginia just counting the days until I could get out of West Virginia,” she said. “So often, we tell our young people that to be successful, you have to leave West Virginia. And I’m here to tell you today, that is absolutely not true. As young people, you are our state’s most valuable resource. You are. We have a lot of assets in West Virginia.”

When Riley was a senior at PCHS, she applied and was accepted to Harvard University. She felt like a small fish in a big pond, with fellow students making stereotypical comments when they found out she was from West Virginia, but she held her head high and learned some valuable lessons on and off campus.

“I learned about power,” she said. “I learned that there is no one else who is in charge of the world. There’s only us. There is no great Oz sitting behind the curtain. There are no mysterious others who govern the planet. There’s only us. We’re in charge of the world. Isn’t that a stunning revelation?”

Riley said it was time that West Virginians identified themselves as being smart and embrace the resourcefulness we all possess.

“We still don’t do a good enough job of a couple of things in West Virginia,” she said. “One thing is that we tend to struggle with embracing being smart, being really smart is a core part of our identity as mountaineers. We’re scrappy. We’re tough. We’re creative. We’re resourceful. We’re tenacious. And you know what else we are? We’re really darn smart.”

When Riley returned to Pocahontas County at the age of 22, she still didn’t think she was going to stay forever, but it wasn’t long before she met her future husband, Joe, and developed her business, High Rocks.

“At twenty-two years old, I didn’t know what I was going to do here,” she said. “There wasn’t a job or a career pathway that existed for me, so I started building things and over the last twenty years, we built High Rocks – an organization that works across the state to educate, empower and inspire young people in West Virginia.”

High Rocks began in 1996 with “$5,000 and a dream,” and now operates on a nearly $2 million budget.

“We started the High Rocks with the dream that, one day, those first students would grow up and they would run the programs for the next generation,” Riley said. “One of the things that makes me proudest of High Rocks is that more than half of our board of directors are alumni of our programs and hundreds of our alumni report that their experiences with High Rocks helped transform their lives.”

In closing, Riley invited the students to call her anytime to talk about school, struggles and ideas for the future. She left the students with the following “takeaways.”

“West Virginia needs her brightest and best to build a future where everyone can thrive and that is each and every one of you. We need you. Your ideas. Your heart. Your faith.

“To reach your ultimate potential, to be the change maker and innovator that you can be, you need to challenge yourself every time you get the opportunity. You need to get as strong and as flexible as possible – physically and mentally – for the road ahead. You need to be brave and you need to go outside of your comfort zone on a regular basis to grow as far and as fast as possible.

“We are proud of you. We are really, really proud of you, and we want you to be proud of yourself. Wear your academic accomplishments publicly and with pride. You are role models for our whole community and being smart is an important part of who we are.

“Believe in the power of your dreams. Like my dream with High Rocks coming true, and it’s bigger and more powerful than anything I could have imagined. Your dreams can come true, too.

“As you go forth, stay in touch with us. Let us know about your journey, so we can learn with you and so we can be better prepared to help you raise the next generation even better than we managed to raise you.

“And so,” she concluded, “I give you the world, and I know that it couldn’t be in safer hands.”

New members of the National Honor Society are:

Dakin Rexrode, son of David and Melissa Rexrode, of Durbin.

Thomas Smith, son of Tim and Madora Smith, of Minnehaha Springs.

Sienna Christine Bircher, daughter of Shannon Barkley Bircher, of Boyer.

Brandon Michael Burns, son of Mike and Connie Burns, of Marlinton.

Ty Hunter Cochran, son of Greg and Brenda Cochran, of Dunmore.

Emmalee Dean, daughter of Christopher and Amanda Dean, of Marlinton, and Kathy Rohr, of Roanoke, Virginia.

Alan Gibson, son of Sam Gibson, of Snowshoe, and Gayle Boyette, of Slaty Fork.

Cassidy Mae Hardesty, daughter of Mike and Gina Hardesty, of Marlinton.

Chloe Lynn Hardesty, daughter of Mike and Gina Hardesty, of Marlinton.

Elizabeth Hefner, daughter of Mikie and Jessica Hefner, of Marlinton.

Emily Catherine Henderson, daughter of David and Janesa Henderson, of Buckeye.

Autumn Lane, daughter of Rusty Lane and Melissa New, of Marlinton.

Savannah McMillion, daughter of Phillip and Susan McMillion, of Hillsboro.

Jennalee Meck, daughter of Jacob and Malinda Meck, of Green Bank.

Hadden Phillip Mick, son of Stephen Dale Mick, Jr., and Rebecca Lynn Campbell, of Marlinton.

Silas Riley, son of Joe and Sarah Riley, of Mill Point.

Ciera Nicole Wilfong, daughter of Randy and Beth Wilfong, of Slaty Fork.

Cheylin Woodruff, daughter of Michael Woodruff, of Green Bank, and Rhonda Woodruff, of Dunmore.

Maria Workman, daughter of Jason and Michelle Workman, of Hillsboro.

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