The gymnasium was filled to the rafters Friday evening, but it wasn’t to cheer on an athletic contest.
Rather, it was a pep rally for dedicated pupils, a spirit gathering for scholarship, as 62 members of the Class of 2021 strode across the stage to receive their diplomas from Franklin County High School.
“The real question is, how do you want to be remembered?” asked Brycin Huckeba in his valedictory address. “Do you want people to look back on us, glad that we are leaving because of how much of a nuisance, annoyance or mean person we were?
“Or do we want to be seen as a joy to be around that brightened someone’s life? ” he asked. “Life is a collection of moments, which happen, and then are instantly gone, forever gone, that cannot be lived again.
“There is a moment in your life where you’ve made individual impacts on different people,” Huckeba said. “Every person you’ve met has a different version of you in their memory than you think you are. That one time you yelled in a restaurant? Or skipped a line? Or threw trash on the ground, or got caught in a lie?
“Your legacy isn’t defined by you, yet the memory of you in individuals you’ve impacted throughout your life lives on here on earth,” he said.
Huckeba, who is headed to Florida State, veered slightly from his prepared remarks to pay tribute to his grandmother, Shirley Crum, with whom he had talked recently about the different cycles her life has gone through, from education to marriage to working in the seafood industry to raising children.
Crum was just one of several hundred parents, grandparents and family members who filled the gym.
At the opening of the ceremonies, Franklin County Schools Principal Laurence Pender had asked all these parents to stand, as well as teachers and other individuals who have had an impact on these students’ lives.
Greetings from Class President Jadyn Luberto, and the Pledge of Allegiance from Vice President Marci Kelly, were followed by the National Anthem, accompanied by a lone trumpet played by Shawn Bentz, the director of the small high school band that played at several times during the evening.
Leslie Escobar gave the invocation. “Bless their lives from this day on with goodness and love,” she said. “Help them to stay true to their dreams, to use their gifts wisely, and to walk into the future without fear.”
On a giant overhead screen, the audience then watched a presentation of the faces of each graduate, and a photo or two from their childhoods,
Following the flower ceremony, where graduates-to-be fanned out to hand their loved ones red roses, Pender and Superintendent Steve Lanier then handed out the diplomas, with the audience learning each of the students’ parents’ names and what the student plans to do next year.
Huckeba and salutatorian Tate Stanley were joined by Calea Dively, Martina Granger, Ragan Helmlinger, Luberto, Jana Strunk, and Abigail Johnson as graduates with highest honors.
Receiving High Honors were Layla Chisholm, Dylan Love and Makayla Varner. Earning Honors were Alexis Britcher, Andrea Cooper, Katelyn Cox, Emma Crum, Devin Daniels, Escobar, Kristin Estes, Kelley, Elizabeth McAnally, Sean Nolen, Rebecca Shiver, Sydney Shuman, and Charlee Winchester.
Rounding out the class were Aaliyah Abbott, Kiani Allen, Tyler Anderson, Rileigh Boatwright, Eden Brathwaite, Cody Cassidy, QuaNieria Croom, Kiera Daniel, Olivia Dutrow, Caden Evans, Camron Evans, Ryan Granger, Eulalia Gregorio, Kelsey Griffin, Trederrion Jones, Cailin Kuhner, Samantha Latorre, Freeda Lawson, Brayden Christopher Lloyd, Stephen Malone Jr., Lamarius Martin, Fred Anthony Millender II, Landen Millender, Patricia Obezo, Jennifer Owens, Grace Patterson, Destanie Proctor, Holly Ray, Clinton Rester, Sarah Segree, Ashton Shaw, Breauna Shiver, Gracie Smith, Kelson Smith, Michael Square, Hannah Turner, and Jarvis Turrell.
At the end of the well-choreographed commencement exercises, the audience remained in their seats during the recessional. The graduates then returned to the front, and surrounding Pender, they tossed their caps in the air in unison, the end of their years together and the beginning of their lives apart.