By Sarah Wibell
On Friday night, May 24, in the Bill Corey Stadium, 197 students received their diplomas as the first class to graduate from the new Morgan County High School campus. Family, friends, faculty, and staff cheered for the graduates as their hard work, personal growth, and future possibilities were recognized.
Noting that graduating marked the first chapter of the rest of the seniors’ lives, one of this year’s two Salutatorians, Mackenzie Ward, stated, “We are continuously climbing and reaching new heights we did not even know were attainable. Our stories are nowhere near the end. Many of our stories may completely change before we really know where we are headed, and that’s okay. As a future student of UGA’s animal health program, I’m already starting to think I chose the wrong major with all these literary references, but because we are still in the early chapters of our stories, we have time to change things and find the path that is meant for us. As all of you students embark on your journey, I hope you choose to do what makes you happy. Although we are pushed to be as successful as possible, if playing the guitar on the street corner is the career of your choice, then go for it. Our lives are limited, and we should not spend our time here being unhappy.”
Valedictorian Calla Pederson suggested taking the K.A.S.H. acronym for a program that teaches students life skills – Knowledge, Attitude, Skills, and Habits – and redefining it as the graduates move forward: 1. Know who you are, 2. Appreciate what and who you have in your life, 3. Seek out what you are passionate about, and 4. Honesty is the best policy for everyone involved.
“I’m not sure what about having the highest GPA in my grade screams, ‘Let me give a speech’ and qualifies a 17-year old girl, among adults and her peers – some of whom are already adults – to give sage advice and bestow whatever real wisdom I supposedly have gained by doing my schoolwork,” Pederson remarked.
“The main life lesson I have learned from my academic experience is just do it. I promise I’m not being sponsored by Nike; my attempts to swim and run track definitely do not qualify me for that honor. Doing what is necessary now to better our future, no matter how unpleasant the task at hand may be, will always be worth it. Many cliched valedictory addresses attempt to capture a fictional universal high school experience. This, of course, cannot be done because each and every one of us is a complete individual, and I am never one to disregard varying degrees of quirkiness. However, the one thing I am sure we have all experienced over the course of the past four years of high school is change.”
MCHS Principal Dr. Miki Edwards congratulated the seniors and also spoke about change through the analogy of moving: “It has quite literally been a moving experience this year for your senior class …
“Moving, as we all know, can be a difficult and exciting process as it takes hard work to physically pack up, transfer belongings, and then settle into a new destination … Graduating from high school is a whole lot like moving. There’s the realization that the familiarity of the people, the routines, and the place you know must be given up in order to move on to the next phase of your life. There may be some apprehension about leaving what you know, but there is hopefully excitement about the new possibilities that await you. But like any move, there’s going to be hard work and sometimes heavy lifting involved … There will be packing by evaluating the old things in your life and deciding what knowledge, attitudes, skills, and habits to take with you as you move …
“Once you’re packed and ready, go. Move. Make it happen. And then keep moving, even when the going gets tough and stuff gets heavy as it sometimes will. Keep learning, keep growing, keep moving … Class of 2019, the faculty and staff of Morgan County High School are grateful and proud to have been a part of the first leg of your journey. We wish you Godspeed.”
Superintendent of Morgan County Schools Dr. James Woodard instructed, “Begin this journey with the confidence that you are prepared. Your academic foundation has been built. Use this foundation as the building block for your future endeavors. Be prepared to seek advice and wisdom from those who have travelled before you. Be reflective on what stirs your soul and spirit. Define what success will mean for you, and dive into this chapter with excitement and anticipation … Compete against yourself. Improve upon your own abilities … This competing against yourself mindset is all about being willing to set personal goals, performing at a very high level, and reflecting on what you can do better. I would tell (my) kids, if you place last, and I know that you did your best, I’m okay. However, if you place first, and I knew that you didn’t do your best, there would be some opportunities for conversation. My challenge to you, seniors, find your passion, set your goals, perform at a high level, and reflect on how you can do better.”
Woodard recalled that Taylor Kinchen – who died at the age of five but would have been a part of this graduating class – used to say, “It’s good to be me.” He invited everyone to join him in collectively saying that phrase.
“This milestone is celebrated by getting a sheet of fancy paper in a fancy folder, but this diploma is filled with many things,” Salutatorian Emma Alligood stated. “Thanks again to friends for keeping us sane. Thanks to family for the support. Thanks to teachers for being our support at school and giving it to us straight. Thanks to all administrators and other faculty for giving all 197 of us the opportunity to move on from here with our heads held high.”