WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — When Charles Royster walked across the stage in the Benton Convention Center Friday morning, he was more than a graduate of Recruit Class XX of the Winston-Salem Fire Department, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
He was a role model for his six-year-old son, Chad, who was waiting on the other side to help pin on his dad’s shiny new badge.
“He’s brave and I’m really proud of him,” Chad said, looking up at his dad.
Royster, 30, said he left his job as a second-grade teacher at Konnoak Elementary School to become a firefighter after his son said that’s what he wanted to be when he grows up.
“I’m going to pin him up when he comes of age,” Royster said.
Snagging a spot on the department is no easy feat.
Out of more than 600 qualified applications, 15 men were eventually chosen to become members of the recruit class that graduated Friday morning.
The keynote speaker was Chief Antony Farmer. Farmer announced earlier this month that he is retiring at the end of the year, meaning Class XX is the last class over which he’ll preside.
“We started with 15 and graduated 15,” Farmer said, “so this is a great note to end on.”
Omari Peterson, the class’ chosen spokesperson, said the recruits came from all different walks of life, but became a team over the course of six months and more than 1,200 hours of training.
“We each have our own strengths and weaknesses,” Peterson said, comparing the class members to pieces of a puzzle. “We became a family.”
The class included men like Royster, who had no prior firefighting experience, and men like Clinton Hunter, who is an experienced volunteer firefighter.
Hunter, 23, said he’s dreamed about being a firefighter since he was a little kid.
Realizing that dream Friday left him a little speechless.
“I’m just excited to get started helping out the city,” Hunter said.
Hunter won the Outstanding Teammate Award, voted on by his peers in the recruit class.
The Vivian H. Burke Character Award was presented to Jamie DeGeare, a former Winston-Salem State University football player.
Cameron Chappell, a recent Appalachian State University graduate, finished with top marks in both EMT and firefighting training.
Chappell, 22, received the Top Firefighter I and II awards, shared the Top EMT Award with classmate Ethan Richards and was presented the Fire Chief Award for best grade point average in the class. Chappell, who graduated with a degree in exercise science, said he wanted a job that allowed him help people – and didn’t involve sitting behind a desk.
“I like I’ve got the basics and I’m ready to keep learning and training,” Chappell said.
The next stage of training – on-the-job starts Monday.
Farmer encouraged the class to continue learning and working hard “so you can go home.”