HAMPTON, Va. — The Hampton Coliseum roared with cheers from loved ones.
"I really can't explain it. I really want to hop out of this chair right now and do a little dance move," said Kaylan Brown, a member of Bethel High School's Class of 2021.
He was also in The Transportation, Analytics, Information, and Logistics Academy as part of the Academies of Hampton.
Kaylan beamed with excitement and eventually got to dance with absolute joy Thursday.
"We went through a tough time. Nobody could have predicted this at all. To be able to pull this through and still be here today, I feel like that's an amazing accomplishment. I think it does make us more resilient," he said.
The soon-to-be Radford University student credits his teachers at Bethel and his faith for making this moment possible.
“Life is not always going to be easy," said Christopher Floyd, a fellow grad in the same class and academy as Kaylan. “We had no control over it and we had to learn to adapt to that."
While being a so-called "pandemic grad," Christopher comes from another perspective of strength. "See, in my situation, my mom had stage 4 cirrhosis of the liver. So not only was I doing school, but I was taking care of her full time as well," he said.
Christopher prepares for his next chapter at Thomas Nelson Community College.
“I don't even know the words to describe it honestly," said Valedictorian Jaelyn Matthews. She shouts out her family, teachers and school administration.
The top-ranking student was in the Gifted Enrichment Seminar academy. She heads to George Mason University in the fall.
Jaelyn opens up about some of her biggest lessons learned.
"Time really does fly, just learning to live in the moment more and just enjoy the people around you, the time around you and not rush things," she said.
The 402 students in Bethel’s Class of 2021 are making history for another reason. They’re the first batch who has been in the Academies of Hampton all four years of high school.