The hopefulness of youth rippled across the sharpened acoustics of the Franklin County High School gymnasium Friday night, as 59 members of the Class of 2019 received their diplomas before a packed audience.
Theirs was an optimism embodied in the question of the evening, “what if?,” posed by Mikalin Huckeba, who shared valedictorian honors with Chloe Davis.
“Most people think (it) is a senseless question because of how crazy it is, but that is exactly why I think it is the best question of them all,” he said, joking how his older brother once shared that the most ridiculous question of all was “What if llamas really walked on two legs?”
Huckeba asked the audience to have the mindset of someone 150 years ago and consider how a lightbulb might sound to them. “Do you know how insane it would sound if you said ‘What if we use electricity and a glass bulb to make light for thousands of homes?’ or what about ‘What if we could travel in the air?’ and even ‘What if we could go beyond Earth?’
“You see questions like these are the types of questions that have changed humanity forever,” he said. “I would like to challenge my classmates to ask themselves their own question. To hold themselves to a higher standard, a commitment even to a goal to better oneself.
“For example some of you may ask ‘What if I am the first person in my family to earn a college degree?’ ‘What if I can create a successful and prosperous future?’ ‘What if I can have a family of my own one day?’ or even ‘What if I can be the father or mother that I never had?’” Huckeba said. “Hold on to this goal or vision of your future and never let it go.
“I myself have felt thoughts of self-doubt and sometimes I worry because there is a possibility that I will never reach to what I strive to be. In times like this, remember to think about what Erin Hanson stated, ‘What if I fall? Oh, but darling what if you fly?’” he said.
Davis, too, offered encouragement to her classmates, stressing the exceptional character of this year’s class while offering thanks to parents and teachers alike for all their support.
“How is it possible to condense the joy, anger, and nervous breakdowns that high school gives you in a five to ten-minute speech?” she said, and then hearkened back to her first day at the high school “as an ABC school graduate who was immediately intimidated by all of the Franklin County kids.
“In the beginning, I felt like we were a class divided and that they would never accept kids from over the bridge,” Davis said. “However, after a couple of weeks I realized that we were going to be nothing short of a family.
“I am fortunate enough to say I was a part of a class that made everything an adventure. From homecoming week, to selling hot oysters and shrimp at the seafood festival booth, to cheering on our basketball boys as they made it to state, every moment has made it a meaningful experience,” she said. “Over these last four years, my class has put so much energy into any school activity that came our way. I think it is safe to say that we have earned the title of the ‘extra’ class.”
In her speech as salutatorian, Jessica Rudd offered comforting and positive words to her classmates as they set out to tackle the world.
“Often, it seems as though all we can focus on are the things that affect us negatively. We allow ourselves to become so consumed with the bad, that we ignore all of the wonderful things happening right in front of us,” she said. “In these times, it is especially important to take a moment and appreciate all that we have going for us. Though there will be bad days, there will always be better ones to follow.
“There is nothing wrong with asking for help. Many people, myself included, are either too stubborn or prideful to ask for help when they need it. It isn’t shameful to ask someone to give you a hand, nor does it make you any less of a person,” Rudd said. “Your dreams don’t work unless you do. You can’t expect everything in life to fall into place without rolling up your sleeves and doing some pushing.
“There is always something you can improve on, but it will never get better if you do not take the initiative. Never settle for good enough, work until you have the best life you are capable of living,” she said.
The two-hour ceremony was exceptionally well-presented, from the two-by-two processional that opened it, to the decorum that surrounded the handing out of pink roses by grads to their parents and family, and the white carnations that some of the graduates carried in memory of their parents, to the traditional slideshow of seniors and pictures from their childhoods, to the presentation of diplomas by Principal Michael Sneed and the subsequent congratulations by Superintendent Traci Moses, School Board Chair Stacy Kirvin and other school officials.
Moses opened the ceremony with greetings, followed by Assistant Principal Nathan West introducing this year’s retirees. Senior Daijon Penamon led the Pledge of Allegiance and Culinary Arts Instructor Debra Fletcher sang, as usual, a moving rendition of the National Anthem.
Micah McLeod did the invocation, followed by Class President Beyla Walker offering a welcome. Sneed stood in front of the class as he gave his address, encouraging them to strive to do their best, regardless of their chosen path.
He and Guidance Counselor Melanie Copeland presented the valedictorian and salutatorian plaques, and following the salutatorian address, Class Vice President Fisher Edwards, and Davis, the class historian, paid tribute with gifts to the class sponsors, Teresa Segree and Jennifer Edwards, the latter of whom is Fisher’s mom.
After the valedictorian addresses, Class Secretary Hannah Hogan and Class Treasurer Melanie Collins paid tribute to parents, followed by the slide show, and the presentation of diplomas.
Moses then announced the tassels could be turned, the mortar boards flew in the air, one of them getting stuck on the ceiling, and Drew Robinson and Walker led the singing of the alma mater.
Mikel Register offered the benediction and with the band playing, the graduates headed out to mingle with their families under the night sky.