By CHRISTINA RITCHIE ROGERS
CORNELIUS – Last year, Wesli Jones and Rigney Marcela, both juniors at W.A. Hough High School at the time, found themselves in music theory class – the only two non-musically-inclined students in the class. Though they didn’t really know each other outside of class, the two bonded over their musical shortcomings. The night before Rigney’s birthday, Wesli got an idea: She’d make him some cookies – a nice, friendly, birthday gesture.
When she presented Rigney with the cookies the next day, “He was so surprised and had such a big smile, it was just great,” she said. And, she decided she had to do it again, for somebody else. And somebody else. In fact, Wesli started checking Facebook nightly to see if anyone had a birthday the next day, so she could make them cookies too.
“A lot of times in high school we’re taught it’s sort of a dog-eat-dog world,” she said. “I try to treat people differently, and go outside of my usual friend groups to meet new people and make them happy.”
Baking birthday cookies is just one tradition Wesli started since she arrived at Hough last year. The beauty of attending a brand new school is that every tradition, big or small, is a new tradition, she said – from the chants at sports games to her favorite, Senior Bike Day. Twice this past year, the senior class parked their cars at Bailey Park, just up the road from the school, and rode to school on their bikes in one big pack.
“It really brings us together and helps us bond,” she said.
On Saturday Wesli will graduate with just over 400 other students, the first graduating class of W.A. Hough High School. The school opened in 2010 with about 1,450 students in ninth, 10th and 11th grades.
Beyond the new traditions and fun “firsts,” the best thing for Wesli about switching to Hough was the opportunity to find her true self and her true friends.
“Normally in older high schools, things like popularity are already defined,” she said, but when you find yourself with a group of students from all different schools and backgrounds, you have a unique opportunity to start fresh.
A former Hopewell student and Cornelius resident, Wesli came into her own at Hough, she said. The daughter of Victor and Detra Jones, she played sports, and also helped to start a student athletic training program, in which students assist the school’s head athletic trainer during sports games. She also served as vice president of the student body, and the inter-club council president, working with school clubs to increase their involvement and exposure. She continues to work as a senior student leader with Young Life, and, earlier this year, she was crowned the school’s first Homecoming Queen.
“(Coming to Hough) changed me as a person,” she said. “I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity, and I made friends who were real friends, who care about you, not just people you hang out with and pose for pictures with.”
What makes her class unique, she said, is how supportive everyone is of one another. The bonds the seniors have formed run deeper than Bike Day or cheers: The students also have faced tragedy together, including the death of one classmate’s father and the deaths of three students over the past two years. The sadness drew the students closer together, she said.
Commencement is Saturday, but it doesn’t quite seem real, she said, and it’s bittersweet.
“It’s hard, because you spend all of high school trying to figure out all the answers and then you finally do, and then you leave,” she said. “But, it’s also very exciting that we got to this point.”
W.A. Hough High’s first graduation is Saturday, June 9, at 12:30 p.m., at Dale F. Halton Arena, UNC Charlotte, Charlotte.