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Winning words of encouragement

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
HCHS graduate Trajen Gomes and Pittsburgh Steelers running back Trey Edmunds / May 24, 2020
An outgoing senior at Halifax County High School received a huge surprise the day before graduation: a message of congratulations from a player for his favorite NFL team, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It was a welcome boost for Trajen Gomes, a member of the Class of 2020 who, even more than most students in these pandemic times, has endured a rough final year at HCHS.

Gomes made it through his senior year despite losing his older brother, Al’terique, in a fatal car crash in November and his mother in March to natural causes. His grandmother and aunt have taken care of the South Boston senior since the death of his mother.

On Friday, Gomes got an unexpected message of support and congratulations from Danville’s Ferrell “Trey” Edmunds III, who plays fullback for the Steelers.

“Trajen, congratulations brother — you did it, you graduated. I don’t want you to take it lightly at all, man, celebrate. It’s a huge accomplishment, graduating,” said the Virginia Tech product, now entering his fourth year in the NFL.

“You stayed strong, you battled through adversity … I know a little bit about your story and I know how much you had to persevere and how many sacrifices you had to make and how strong you had to be,” said the Steelers running back. “I just want to let you to know how proud I am of you, bro. Sending love all the way from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”

Gomes, reacting to Edmunds’ words, struggled to contain his emotions.

“Thank you so much for this. It really does mean a lot to me, you know, after all I’ve been through. It’s touching my heart a lot right now. I don’t want to start crying,” said Gomes.

The story of how Trajen Gomes received the congratulatory message from the Steelers and Trey Edmunds traces back to a campaign started on social media by members of the Class of 2000, to show their support for graduates of the Class of 2020.

Shonda Johnson, a 2000 Comet, was among those who launched the effort on Facebook, asking classmates to “adopt” an outgoing senior in recognition of all they’ve lost this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Members of the HCHS Class of 2000 have showered words of encouragement, praise and gifts on this year’s graduates to lift their spirits after their senior year was cancelled.

Shevon Welch, Shonda’s sister, is a HCHS graduate of the Class of 1997 who joined the effort. After members of the Class of 2020 selected their “adoptees,” Welch did the same for four seniors at the high school.

Trajen Gomes was one of the four.

To her other adoptees — Kyle Arendall, Brandon Coates and Christian Aleman-Fernandez — Welch sent graduation gifts. With Trajen, she thought of doing something more.

“I felt he had so much of a year of lows that I wanted to give him one memorable high from senior year that he could take with him into the future,” she said.

Through getting to know her adoptees, Welch discovered Gomes is a Steelers fan. By coincidence, Welch, a state government financial analyst, is good friends with Tonalisa Edmunds, a fellow Comet alum, North Carolina teacher, and cousin to Trey, Tremaine and Terrell Edmunds, all of whom play in the NFL.

Trey and Terrell are both members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, with younger brother Terrell joining the team in 2019 as a safety. A third brother, Tremaine, is a linebacker for the Buffalo Bills. (He and Terrell made NFL history by becoming the first brothers to be selected together in the first round of the NFL draft.) Their father, Ferrell Edmunds Jr., was an All-Pro tight end for the Miami Dolphins and former football coach at the Dan River High School, where his sons graduated.

Tonalisa Edmunds, a member of the extended Edmunds family who grew up in Halifax, received the request from Welch — can you get word to your cousin about reaching out to my senior adoptee, Trajen Gomes, HCHS Class of 2020?

“I figured since he was such a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, what better way than to get a member of the team to get in touch with him?” said Welch.

The video was orchestrated in the short span of a week — “I wanted it in before graduation and he [Trey Edmunds] was able to do that,” said Welch — and she had it ready to present to Gomes Saturday, the day before graduation, at a photo shoot that she arranged at HCHS.

At first, the volume on the video greeting was too low to hear on Gomes’ phone. Once he made some adjustments and was able to understand who was in the video and what he was saying, his face lit up.

“He was starting to giggle and laugh and said, ‘that’s a football player,’” said Welch, describing the moment. “You could tell he was getting a little choked up. He was so happy, so appreciative of the whole gesture.”

Welch, who divides time between Danville and Newport News in her work, said her young adoptee wants to become a medical technician. Gomes has an uncle who is a medical assistant, which is one reason why Welch believes he will succeed in his goal.

Rather than seeing Gomes and other seniors end their high school careers on a down note, Welch and members of the Adopt-A-Graduate campaign organized to tell graduates they are appreciated — and stay optimistic.

“Instead of letting the coronavirus dampen their spirits, let’s let them know there are people out there they don’t even know who support them,” she said.

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What a great story to read. It is so refreshing to hear that a Pittsburgh Steeler would would take time out of his day to brighten someone's day. This graduate is truly a success, he fought back instead of quiting when life got tough. And for a former graduate to take this mission on speaks volumes of her heart and the kindness and selfless act of cheering on a courageous man. Thanks to his grandmother and aunt for taking care of him. These are special ladies,not everyone would do this.

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