South Stokes graduates marched into Keith Gore Stadium on Thursday evening empty-handed, but left with glowing grins and a high school diploma.
Principal Wayne Duggins posed the question, “What do you plan to be or to do for the rest of your life?”
After a short pause he let the class of 2016 in on a little secret.
“Almost everyone in this stadium here today has no idea either. I do want to reassure you all that it’s alright if you don’t have that answer. That’s what makes life fun and growing up exciting. Right now dream big, as big as you want. There is one thing I’ve learned and that is you must have a plan. A goal without a plan is a dream.”
Duggins encouraged the graduates to begin defining their plan.
“Choices will either push you toward or away from the goals you have set. I’m here to tell you that for most of us it takes hard work. Positive things don’t just happen,” he said. “Never lower your standards, always keep an open mind, and constantly reflect on who you are and where you want to be. Take time for yourself and never let others steer you away from your plan.”
Salutatorian Hannah Ross confessed she was at a loss for words when penning her graduation speech.
“What kind of wisdom can a 17-year-old pass on to a crowd when I struggle not to eat mozzarella sticks for every meal?”
But the young adult bravely shared what South Stokes had meant to her over the past four years.
“This past spring when my oldest brother, Justin passed away I felt isolated, in pain, and in grief. I have never felt more alone. Even though I was bitter and weak and so lost I came to school not because I cared about class but because there were teachers who told me it would be ok. There were friends who came to my house who checked on me and called. There were parents who made and brought every casserole dish imaginable under the sun,” she said. “At a moment when I felt so hollow South Stokes came and filled me with love and kindness. That is something I can never repay and that is something that can only happen here.”
Valedictorian Nicole Rogers, reiterated the same sentiment.
“The people here at South Stokes and everyone in our lives for the past 18 years have prepared us for whatever is to come. We’re lucky to have those people who let you cry on their shoulder when people make you doubt who you are. We’re lucky to have those people who believed in you even when you didn’t believe in yourself.”
In keeping with the Sauras tradition, after all of the students were presented with diplomas, the graduates turned around to a stadium full of family and friends cheering them on.
Amanda Dodson can be reached at 336-813-2426 or on Twitter at AmandaTDodson.