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Lakeland valedictorian ‘just had to persevere’

Joshua Aldridge already had experience with distance learning when COVID-19 closed schools about 15 months ago.

Having taken dual enrollment classes at both Paul D. Camp Community College and Tidewater Community College, Aldridge, 18, was already familiar with Canvas, the online platform Suffolk Public Schools chose, since he had used it in those places.

It was a change for Lakeland High School class of 2021 valedictorian, but not one he couldn’t handle. But by being a part of the school’s Project Lead the Way biomedical program, he had to partner on a yearlong capstone project, studying the effects on global warming on aquatic life — doing so while studying at home.

In the spring when students had the option to attend school in person, Aldridge chose to stay virtual, since the COVID-19 vaccine was not available to teens at that time.

“It was different, a bit challenging, but it was possible,” Aldridge said. “It was accomplishable. … It was a bit more isolating because I had a partner with it and we had to discuss it over the phone rather than we would in class every single day for biomed.”

His interest in the biomedical program at Lakeland dates back to about fifth grade, when he was interested in becoming a dentist. After attending middle school at John Yeates, he opted to make the 20- to 25-minute one-way trip from his home to get to school, and his career choice has evolved to wanting to become an oral maxillofacial surgeon.

Science has always been his favorite subject, and he’s had a longstanding interest in learning about the body, the brain and how it all connects together.

Aldridge was also able to expand his social circle, keeping his friends from his neighborhood while making new ones at Lakeland.

After earning a general education certificate at Camp and an associate degree from TCC, Aldridge plans to attend the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and major in biology and plans to go to dental school.

Besides academics, Aldridge also reached Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts, and was part of Lakeland’s BioSTEM and Robotics clubs.

He credited Lakeland’s staff, along with his friends, peers and family with helping him throughout. Aldridge said his mom, Nincy Accelin-Aldridge, drove him to do well, and his dad, Brian Aldridge, though he had to work a lot, helped provide him with slides he needed for his studies. He also noted aunts who worked as nurses who helped him, too.

Aldridge said he feels fortunate and appreciative to have had a more normal graduation and in his valedictory address, shared that it takes patience, perseverance and hard work to accomplish goals.

“I’m going to think about all the hard work that I actually had to do,” Aldridge said. “At that time, I was struggling with how I was going to do this, study for all these tests, taking AP classes, dual credit. But in the end it was accomplishable, because here I am now. I just had to persevere through it. I studied hard with the help of my peers, my friends and my teachers.”

Valedictorian: Joshua Aldridge

Age: 18

Family: Brian Aldridge, father; Nincy Accelin-Aldridge, mother; Jeremiah Aldridge, brother; Jacob Aldridge, brother

College: University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill

Major: Biology