At the outset of his remarks introducing a packed gymnasium Thursday night to the commencement exercises of Franklin County High Schools’ 15th graduating class, Principal Laurence Pender cautioned against loud, boisterous cheers.
It didn’t take long for the packed audience to set aside his request, and to turn the evening into a jubilant celebration of the 54 graduates in the Class of 2022.
The soon-to-be graduates filed in with dignity to the playing of Pomp and Circumstance, and then Pender offered, in succession, for all parents of seniors to stand, then grandparents, and then all who have played a part in these students’ lives.
After greetings from Class President Myia Maxwell, Sage Brannan, the class vice-president, and Saunti Turrell, the class treasurer led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Trumpeter Jerry Lane, a regular performer at Redemption Point – Eastpoint Church of God, then played a jazzy version of the National Anthem.
Genesis Jones, the class historian, then offered the invocation. “God, you are the creator of all things,” she said. “Thank you for the precious gifts of knowledge and discovery.
“I ask that you indeed bless each of these graduates,” Jones said. “To those going directly into the workforce, give a sense of what is suitable, reasonable and appropriate in the often-confusing issues they will face.”
Maxwell then narrated a light-hearted presentation that included a slide show that tested how well students knew faculty and staff, based on quoting their favorite sayings or daily habits. A slide show that featured baby pictures of the grads ended with a photo of Hayley Creamer, a classmate who died just as she was embarking on a high school career. The crowd stood and applauded.
A small table in front of the dais featured a picture of Emma Crum, a classmate who graduated early with the Class of 2021, and who perished not long after in an auto accident.
In her salutatorian remarks, Jones thanked parents, guardians and friends for seeing the class through their educations.
“While we don’t want to take away from our relationships and families, we are growing into that time of life in which your friends become your family,” she said. “I can say that this class was a good family for as long as it has lasted. Tonight we all take this next step together, but we travel different paths as individuals.”
In her valedictorian address, Brannan also thanked the leaders who shaped their class’ future.
“I know my class has not always been the easiest group to handle, but y’all have got us this far,” she said. “Even with all the chaos of high school, there was someone there reminding each one of us of our potential.
“As we each go out and discover our own futures, I hope we all remember to savor the present, instead of trying to live in the future. While it is sad to see this chapter closes, it is also exciting to know that we are about to go and make a name for ourselves in the world,” Brannan said.
After each graduate had a chance to present a sunflower to their loved ones, the class flower in memory of Hayley Creamer, it was time for Pender, Superintendent Steve Lanier and Chairman Stacy Kirvin to present the grads with their diplomas.
Graduating summa cum laude were Sage Brannan, Alondra Jimenez, Genesis Jones, Carter Kembro, Myia Maxwell, Marina O’Neal, Rachel Rudd, Annie Smith and Maddison Whitten.
Graduating magna cum laude were Meredith Alford, Garrison Cook, Tyra Jackson, Cameron Nash, Emerald Nordbrok, Nathan Pearson, John Sanders, Jeremy Shuler, Marlee Tucker, and Alexis Wheetley.
Graduating cum laude were Gage Boone, Jahneese Brathwaite, Brianna Cooper, Hunter Duval, Darius Johnson, Nadia Etheridge, Job McBride, Michael Melton, Brendon Polous, Austin Segree, Torin Spohrer, Jaelyn Tipton, Saunti Turrell, Wil Varnes, and Shasta Whitnauer.
Rounding out the class were James Adair, Ariel Andrews, Cooper Bowden, Blakely Curry, Sevryn Everritt, Bryce Gilbert, Arionna Harris, Gage Norris, K’Laun Richards, Kaitlin Robbins, Jamal Robinson, Austin Staats, Jerymiah Stephens, Jordan Waldron, Jocelyn Webb, Raymiona West, Alecia Wheetley, Star’Kaizea Williams, Larry Winchester and Emily Woods.
With Anthony Croom, the district’s safety officer, on keyboards, and Temolynn Wintons, the music teacher conducting, the grads sang the alma mater and then filed out in a recessional, before returning to the front and with exuberance, tossing their caps in the air.