‘Her spirit will be missed’

by Elisabeth Richardson

Recent SouthLake Christian Academy graduate Jennifer Cernuto died Friday, July 1, in an automobile wreck just south of exit 32 on Interstate 77.

Her twin sister, Stephanie, was driving the car. The N.C. Highway Patrol is investigating the cause of the single-vehicle wreck.

Janet Bodine, an eyewitness to the wreck, has said a passing tractor-trailer truck clipped the girls’ vehicle, sending it into a guardrail. Troopers have not commented on that statement.

The accident occurred four weeks to the day after Jennifer had received her high school diploma with distinction.

Jennifer Cernuto’s life was marked by joy in whatever she did, family and friends said.

“Her smile came from the heart and spread clear to her eyes. She could light up even the darkest moment. She had a wonderful gift for moving through a room full of people and making each one feel as if they were exactly the one she was looking to see,” remembered Karen Woodruff, director of college counseling at SouthLake.

Recently she joined 28 other SouthLake seniors on a mission trip to Peru, where they presented the Gospel through skits, delivered water to remote villages, made bricks for a school and washed the feet of Peruvian orphans prior to giving them shoes. (See story)

“Jen was very involved in helping the kids one-on-one with their crafts. She made each one of those children feel special,” Phillip Horton, upper school principal, said. “And she had a tremendous work ethic – pushing wheelbarrows and making adobe bricks – and never complaining. She pressed on and got the job done and did it with a smile. Her spirit will be missed here at SouthLake.”

During her 18 years, she was only apart from her twin sister Stephanie for a single night. “Stephanie always looked out for Jennifer. When they were little, we sent them to Kanakuk Kamp and in one of the letters home, Jennifer said how Stephanie kept asking her if she had put on sun block and insect repellent,” their mother, Lisa Cernuto said.

“She wouldn’t leave my side,” Stephanie Cernuto said. “She was homesick. I always had to make sure she was in her bunk, and I made a calendar for her to count down the days left until she could go home.”

The twins shared a sixth sense about what the other one was thinking. “If someone did something weird, we would look at each other and we knew we were thinking the same thing. We knew each other so well,” Stephanie Cernuto said.

Jennifer was also very social, always organizing sleepovers and looking forward to time she could spend with her friends and family. She loved her close-knit family and was extremely proud of her Italian heritage.

Her older sister Samantha remembers how much Jennifer was looking forward to the July 4 holiday weekend and how her last day was filled with all the things she loved. “She had a perfect day. She got up and insisted on making her favorite chocolate chip pancakes and then she spent the day on the lake. She was the queen of the lake!” she said. “She went to work at a job that she liked, and she was excited about her boyfriend Spencer getting to meet her cousins over the weekend. She loved her cousins.”

This fall she planned on attending High Point University. It was going to be the first time she was away from her twin sister for any length of time and her father, Jeff Cernuto, wanted to make sure she was ready.

“I used to ask her questions about what she would do in certain situations at college,” he said. “She would listen to me patiently and then say, ‘Dad, I love God and God loves me. You don’t have to worry about it.’”

“Yes, she always said, ‘I’m a Christian teenager,’” added mom Lisa. “We know she’s in heaven. If we could change that day, we would, but we know that we’ll see her again. She came into this world peaceful and smiling and she left this world peaceful and smiling.”

Elisabeth Richardson is the journalism teacher at SouthLake Christian Academy.