Friday evening was the 13th annual graduation exercises for Franklin County High School, but despite the extraordinary end of the school year, it turned out there was nothing unlucky about it.
The outdoor event, maintained with proper social distancing, livestreamed on Facebook and broadcast over Oyster Radio, turned out to be an exuberant celebration for the 66 graduates from the Class of 2020.
First they paraded into Eastpoint in a motorcade, many perched in their red cap and gowns on the roofs of their cars, and after debarking at Vrooman Park, moved on to the Mikel Clark Sports Complex where the stadium was filling with family and friends.
“If there is any senior class that can handle a setback, it’s this one right here,” Valedictorian Alyssa Robinson told her classmates. “From Hurricane Michael last school year, to the coronavirus pandemic this year, we have already endured so much. The comeback is always stronger than the setback though, and I am positive that we are just going to come out stronger and wiser from all of this.
“What I’ve learned is that you can’t get too comfortable with where you are, because things are constantly changing. Sometimes plans don’t work out the way you thought they would, so you just have to be resilient and keep on going,” she said. “It may not seem like it in the moment, but if you take a step back, you might realize that some of the best things come from the unexpected.”
Robinson’s speech highlighted the graduation, which was delivered right before she, as class president, passed the torch to Jadyn Luberto, president of the Class of 2021, and the ceremony moved on to the awarding of diplomas.
The graduation opened with the traditional processional, followed by greetings from Robinson, the leading of the Pledge of Allegiance by Krista Kelley, vice-president of the Class of 202, and the singing of the National Anthem by FCHS faculty member Melody Hatfield.
Following “The Star Spangled Banner,” the ceremony was treated to a three-plane flyover 1,000 feet above their heads by three members of the Friends of the Apalachicola Regional Airport.
Former Navy pilot Gordon Hunter was in the lead plane, a Cessna 172, with FCHS graduate Chance White as his co-pilot. To their right was Bruce Graham, piloting a Mooney 20, and to his right, John Bone flying a Cirrus 22.
The three had practiced a few days earlier, and once White got the radio single, they advanced from their circling over St. George Island towards the football field.
“We had a ball,” said Hunter. “We were honored to do it. It was great fun and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. It worked out great.”
After graduating senior Eli Whaley delivered the invocation, guidance counselor Melanie Copeland and principal Michael Sneed presented the awards to the valedictorian, and salutatorian Camille Davis.
“Our whole high school career we have looked forward to events such as our senior trip and prom. It is impossible to not be sad about the memories we are missing out on,” said Davis, in her address. “But we must shift our focus to the positive side.
“Many life changing decisions must be made, and there's much growing up to do, but I have no doubt that this class can handle everything thrown their way. Our community has shaped us into the individuals we are today, but it is time to move on to the next chapter whatever that may be,” she said, noting her thanks both to the support she received at Franklin County School as well as the Apalachicola Bay Charter school, where both she and Robinson attended.
“The most important thing is setting standards for yourself,” Davis said. “Setbacks and tribulations do not mean your end goal is not going to be reached. As we head off to college there will be millions of challenges we each face, yet we must keep our focus by remaining determined on bettering ourselves and pushing through.”
She closed with a dedication to her late grandfather Red Davis. “Ever since I was young he has told me he just wanted to live to see me graduate, and although he is not physically here today I am forever carrying the lessons he instilled in me,” she said.
Following the department awards, certification awards and presentation of scholarships, Robinson delivered her address.
“This year has thrown us the biggest curveball we could have ever imagined. Instead of ending the school year normally, we’ve been in our houses worrying about what was going to happen next. Or really, what was going to get cancelled next,” she said. “I am so thankful to be up here giving this speech right now, because I was honestly terrified that I was going to have to give it over Zoom!
“As we take this next step, I want to remind us that there is not one set definition of success, as everyone views it differently. No matter if you receive a college degree or not, what is important is finding something that you are passionate about, and giving it your all,” Robinson said. “Ultimately, we must choose to do something that is going to make us live a fulfilled life, and not feel pressured into doing what someone else thinks is the right fit. Because at the end of the day, you are the only person who knows what is best for yourself.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re the smartest person in the room if you don’t apply yourself. Being willing to learn and having a strong work ethic can often times take you farther,” she said.
In her conclusion, preceded by many thanks-yous to the teachers who have influenced her along the way, Robinson stressed that despite the unusual ending to their high school education, the future is bright.
“We have so much potential, and I cannot wait to see the kind of futures we make. You’re looking at future nurses, teachers, welders, entrepreneurs, soldiers, and so much more. As bittersweet as it seems, this is just our beginning. The best is yet to come!” she said.
Superintendent Traci Yoder, members of the school board and Sneed than proceeded to pass out the diplomas, as each student moved individually though a long queue.
In addition to Robinson and Davis, graduating with Highest Honors were Chasity Maxine Ard, Elijah Wade Bowden, Faith Nicole Causey, Shyne-Adam Jace Faircloth, Alexandros Earl Joanos, Cade William Juno, Jayden Elex Justice, Krista Alyse Kelley, Adrian Nicole Pruett, Tyler Brice Rainwater, Sophia Hannon Robertson, Drake Travis Stanley, Madalyn Elizabeth Thompson, and Camille Elizabeth Williams.
Graduating with High Honors were Ashley Rose Davis, Gabrielle Marriam Harris, Jonathan David Jones, Hollie Victoria Larkin, Allison Julieanna Register, Keondre Tyrell Sewell, and Hannah Rashell Sweet.
Graduating with Honors were Jaylin Cierra Charles, Janacia Jocelyn Rashel, Bunyon, Allyson Paige Emswiler, Takiah Demi Ford, Wendy Feliciana Herrera, Skye Sebastian Huber, John Zander McCalpin, Teri Elizabeth Messer, Zachariah Michael Odom, Jesse Adam Ray, Jacob Troy Shirley, Stephen Issaiah Smith, Lorne Eli Whaley and Chelsie Disarae Woods.
Rounding out the class were Cale Weston Barber, William Levi Bilbo, Zoie Kristine Brown, Aurora Summer Cepull, Isaiah Joseph DeCourcey, Schuyler Jack Donahoe, Grady Willis Escobar, Kassidy Ann Fisher, Krista Laureal Fuller, Destiny Danielle Fludd, Vincent Michael Guidry, Kaytlin Diana Marriott, Haley Caprise Miller, Walter Angus Hayden Mock, Walter Eli Morris, Emma Grace Lynn Pace, Ayden James Pearson, Shaydan Dean Pearson, Ja’mela Alzae Ray, Gabriel Lake Smith, Jimmy Fred Square, Joseph Phillip Square, Lyndsey Leah Faith Stiefel, Jesse Gage Thompson, Tommy Lee Varner, Malaaky Jamal Wesley, and Kristianna Morgan Wilson.
As the sky darkened, the ceremony closed with .Jaylin Charles, class treasurer, and Takiah Ford, class secretary, leading the salute to parents as graduates walked into the stands to hand the class flower, marigolds, to the people who have helped direct their lives.
Class historian Keondre’ Sewell offered the benediction, Yoder directed the graduates to turn their tassels, caps were tossed in the air, and a most unusual graduation was complete.