‘Know where you’re going,’ nonprofit founder tells IWA graduates

Published 6:05 pm Wednesday, June 12, 2024

For most high school seniors, graduation day marks the end of a journey that began four years ago and the beginning of a new chapter

For most of the 44 who graduated from Isle of Wight Academy on May 31, it’s an even bigger change from the life they’ve known to date.

The private school located across from the Isle of Wight County courthouse seven miles south of Smithfield enrolls approximately 700 students in preschool through 12th grade, meaning some have grown up together since kindergarten if not longer.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“It seems like just yesterday we were still on the playground playing football for recess or going to those terrible middle school dances,” said Class of 2024 Valedictorian Jackson Ray. “Now all of a sudden we’re seniors saying our last goodbyes to each other and to the school.”

“Whether you came to Isle of Wight Academy just last year or you came here in kindergarten it does not matter; we may not have started together but we’ll be ending together,” said Salutatorian Kate Holland.

“I’m grateful to have grown up in a small school like IWA,” Holland said. “The memories we have made over the past 13 years are unique to just 44 of us.”

Eric Newman, founder of the nonprofit Roc Solid Foundation, was this year’s commencement speaker.

Newman, a pediatric cancer survivor, told the graduates he’d founded Roc Solid after hitting rock-bottom. His freshman year of college was marred by the death of his cousin, Shannon, at age 17, followed by his losing his construction business in 2008 when foreclosures on high-risk mortgages spurred a nationwide housing market crisis.

He founded Roc Solid, which provides Ready Bags of supplies to parents of children fighting cancer, after raising $7,500 for the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters in Norfolk, where a child diagnosed with cancer at age 3 – like Newman – asked him what he was doing at the hospital.

The child’s parents told him that day that he’d given them hope.

“Everything changed in the matter of a moment,” Newman said.

Now, Roc Solid is a multimillion-dollar organization that in 2022 partnered with Smithfield Foods to build a play set in the company’s namesake town that was later delivered to a 5-year-old battling leukemia in Woodford as part of the nonprofit’s “Play Defeats Cancer” tour to build 30 play sets in 30 days across the nation.

“Know who you are, know what you believe, and know where you’re going,” Newman urged the graduates.