In the seven years of Franklin County High School commencements, last week’s ranked among the most energetic and enthusiastic of ceremonies, as 63 seniors received diplomas as members of the Class of 2014.
The confident swagger in the gymnasium air May 29 air was seized early by Class President Jathan Martin, who snapped a selfie of himself and his classmates before offering a welcome address that featured a pop quiz.
“Now seniors, I know you thought your high school tests were all over, but here’s a pop quiz. The answer to each question of this pop quiz is simple: The class of 2014,” he said, before launching into four questions, each of which was responded to loudly by his classmates’ collective answer.
“Which class had over 10 athletes signed to colleges?” he asked.
“Which class had students who directed and performed in Franklin County School’s first Broadway production? Which class body was accepted to over 30 colleges and universities? Which class earned over 450 college credit hours? *Which class received over $600,000 in scholarship money?” Martin continued, each answer coming back “The Class of 2014,” loud and clear.
“Throughout our high school career, we have enacted hard-work, determination, and resilience. So, we welcome you to the night where we birth our futures,” he said. ““Tonight is the night where you will witness history. Tonight is the night where the class that has excelled far beyond any other class, will turn their tassels.”
Following his receiving a plaque from Principal Eric Bidwell and Guidance Counselor Roderick Robinson for being salutatorian, and Laura Gallegos and Bria Walker each one for being valedictorian, Martin delivered the address reserved for the second best grade point average in the class.
Martin opened his address by thanking Jesus, and then his parents Sheila and Anthony Martin, of Apalachicola, “two extraordinary individuals who believed in every dream I had and did everything they could to help me achieve them.
“I thank my mentors who pushed me pass my limits. I thank my clique, every friend, and every family member who has helped to get me to this place,” he said. “And a special thanks to the greatest youth department, Chosen Generation, for allowing me to hone in on my leadership skills these past years.”
Martin who is headed to Florida A & M University on an academic scholarship, then referred to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. “Even though we have a ways to go, Dr. King's dream has come into fruition tonight as history has been made with a black girl, a Hispanic girl, and a little militant yella black boy achieving top rank honors in academics, in a predominantly white school,” said Martin.
“Just like Dr. King, I too, have a dream, a dream deeply rooted in the success of my class,” he continued. “I have the privilege to graduate with some of best students to come out of Franklin County. I have dream that today, we will set the precedent for the classes to come. I have a dream that we will be the one to defy stereotypes and lies of inferiority, and produce national success stories,” he said.
Martin challenged his classmates to set goals to be the best in all their future endeavors. “And when that’s done, we will be able to speed up that day when we realize that whether we are doctors, lawyers, oystermen, or waiters, we can achieve success that is noteworthy, for we should not measure our success by the number of zeroes at the end of our check, but by the number of lives we affect,” he said. “Greatness lies within each one us, but we have to make the choice to tap in to it and produce something that will make an impact.”
Gallegos, daughter of Antonio and Angelica Gallegos, of Eastpoint, headed to the honor program at the University of Florida, was next to speak. She said she originally planned to forego her opportunity to speak, until last week, when “a persistent and determined friend of mine convinced me to give one. She told me that if I had a message for the class that I should give it before I missed the chance to do so.”
Gallegos said she went home and thought about it and decided she did have a message for her class, as well as for “my family and the families of my classmates, teachers, and mentors.”
To those families, Gallegos offered thanks for their support. “None of us could have gotten here without you,” she said. “You have taught us how to be better people, made sure we got to this day, and many of you are here now to see us transition to the next part of our lives.”
“To my classmates, I think I speak for most of us when I say that high school went by faster than we ever imagined it would. I remember being a freshman and thinking about how long high school would be, but then when my junior year started I thought to myself where did the time go? As I think about all of my peers -- both the ones I know personally and the rest of you -- I know, without a shred of doubt that we will make a change in the world. You are all so determined and talented. I know all of you will achieve your dreams. Never give up,” she said.
“To my close friends, thank you for always being there for me. You have changed my life and I am a better person because of you,” Gallegos said. “I want to wish each and every one of you success in whatever endeavors you choose to pursue. Class of 2014, We did it!”
Walker, daughter of David and Harolyn Walker, of Apalachicola, also headed to Florida A & M University, was the second valedictorian to speak. She spoke in warm, direct tones to her classmates, at one time facing away from the podium to address the directly.
“Behind every graduate is a great support system. Mine just happens to be the best,” she said at the outset of her remarks, which included expressions of thanks to God, her parents, guidance counselor Robinson, educational mentor Dr. Lois Catlin, and three best friends. “A big thanks to everyone who has gave me an encouraging word or piece of advice, both solicited and unsolicited,” Walker said.
“I stand in front of you with a heart filled with happiness… and fear. These last four years have been filled with laughter and tears. Thank you for all of the memories made from our first color wars to senior trip; I truly have had a blast. I have one last favor to ask of you,” she said. “Create a story your grandchildren won’t be able to believe.”
“We are always bombarded with this one question: what are you going to do after high school? Some of us already have the rest of our lives planned out. Many of us know which direction we would like to go in and yet some of us have no clue where to start,” Walker said. “But that’s OK. It’s okay to simply not know. Now is the time to find out who you truly are.”
“Many of us cannot wait to kiss Franklin County goodbye and then there are some of us who cannot imagine calling another place home. Although Franklin County is a beautiful place, this is your chance to explore what the world has to offer. So go to a few parties and have a good time; go further south and immerse yourself in different cultures; jump on a midnight train that leads to nowhere in particular; climb the world’s tallest mountains; if you’re looking for a hunting challenge, visit Africa and hunt their ‘big 5,’” she said. “Most importantly, follow your dream. As our class quote says ‘Dream what you dare to dream. Go where you want to go. Be who you want to be…. Live. Allow no one to tell you what you are capable of. We are the Class of 2014. We back down from nothing.”
With the high school band, under the direction of Karl Lester, performing the accompanying “Pomp and Circumstance,” the class streamed into the crowded gym in an orderly fashion, two by two, before ascending to the bleachers in front.
Class Vice President Stefan DeVaughn, a graduate with High Honors headed to the honors college at University of West Florida, led the Pledge of Allegiance. Athletic Director Mike Sweatt then sang an exceptionally vibrant rendition of the National Anthem.
Class Secretary Deborah Dempsey, who is headed to the University of West Florida, offered the invocation. She and Brook Pittman, who is headed to Gulf Coast State College) each graduated with Highest Honors, as did Gallegos, Walker and Martin.
Bidwell, together with Superintendent Nina Marks, handed out diplomas following the addresses. Class Sponsors Dolores Croom and Kassi Malcolm, together with teacher Jennifer Edwards, read the names of each of the graduates and their parents as well as their future plans.
Students earning High Honors were Andrea Cupid (Florida A & M University), Jessica Shields (Florida State University), Amber Adkins (San Antonio Community College), Ally Millender (George Wallace Community College) and Gracyn Kirvin (Faulkner University).
A diploma with Honors was given to Jennifer Stratton (Pitt University), Cameron White (Trinity Baptist College), Adriana Reeder (Faulkner University), Logan McLeod (Trinity Baptist College), Josie Turner (Tallahassee Community College), Ryan Babb, Alex Causey (Louisiana College), Shannon Fuller (Gulf Coast State College), Samantha Everson (Santa Fe Community College), Lea Venable (Gulf Coast State College), Tevis Page (Gulf Coast State College), Malachi Parker (Florida State University), James Bailey (University of West Florida), and Graham Kirvin (Thomas University).
Receiving standard high school diplomas were Brittaney Ashley (University of Florida), Dixie Back, Paul Benton III, Kristina Boyd (Gulf Coast State College), Dasia Carr (Santa Fe Community College) Ashley Carroll (George Wallace Community College), Victoria Coleman, Savannah Cook, Chad Coulter, Antonio Croom (Gulf Coast State College) Alviauna Cummings, Bobby Curry (Trinity Baptist College), Matthew Davis (Wyotech), Myel DeCourcey, Cynthia Duncan (North Florida Cosmetology Institution), Toronto Fuller (Chef school), James Gordon, Jr. (Alabama Job Corps), James Harris, Kyle Hathcox (U.S. Marine Corps), Kevin Heath, Heather Holton, Marlyn Lee (Tallahassee Community College), Cody Lyston (Technical school for welding), Austin Martina, Steven McAnally, Haleigh Ming (Haney Tech College), Morgan Mock, James Newell (Trinity Baptist College), Wesley Norred, Kristen Putnal (LPN program at Lively Tech), Mason Ray (Trade school), Caulin Sheridan (Tallahassee Community College), Dallas Shiver, Kyle Smith, Justin Spann (Technical school), Michael Stevens (Technical school), Leonard Ward (Gulf Coast State College), and Mercury Wynn (TCC Pat Thomas Law Academy).
Each student presented the class flower, the lily, to their loved ones, as hug, kisses and tears abounded.
A slide show prepared by Edwards and the yearbook staff followed, and as the lights came up afterwards, the seniors joined in an a capella version of “When I’m Gone,” with soloists interspersed among the recitation by rows, or by guys and girls, or the right section and the left.
After Marks authorized the turning of the tassels, Elinor Mount Simmons, who chaired the graduation committee, wished all well as students and their families alike filed out of the gym into the clear, cool summer evening.