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BCHS '23 commencement sees large class, crowd

The sky was overcast and rain appeared to be on the way. At ground level, however, it was all sunshine as Bryan County High School held its graduation ceremonies Saturday morning at Redskins Stadium.

As to the rain. It never came as things went off without a hitch.

A total of 144 students graduated making it one of the largest graduating classes in school history. There was also—it appeared--a larger than usual turnout from community members as the stands on both sides of the stadium were packed, several people were seated on the track and others ringed the fence around the field.

The day was in marked contrast to a year ago when—while still a day of celebration--everyone was still suffering a hangover from the tornado which had swept through the community only a month before wreaking havoc in its path.

While graduation is a day which recognizes achievement and accomplishment and the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of the graduates it is also one which carries a degree of sadness as it is a day of separation.

Principal Elizabeth Raeburn touched on it in her closing remarks to her second BCHS graduating class, getting  choked up momentarily in the process.  

Raeburn was hired as the middle school principal six years ago which meant, as she pointed out, she had spent six years with this group of seniors. She was there for them in their first year of middle school and she sent them on their way this year.

It was an emotional and heartfelt moment for everyone within the school community: students, faculty and staff as it was when Graci Strickland touched on it in her earlier Valedictory address.

Strickland, who was a standout on a Redskins girls soccer team that reached the state playoffs for the first time since 2016, was presented by BCHS teacher Dr. Jana Shields. The Salutatory address was given by Rusty Kevin Butler, Jr., who was presented by BCHS teacher Blake Nesmith.

“When I look at the people in front of me, I see a field full of uniquely talented classmates who I believe will make their mark on the world,” said Strickland who was also the class president. “There is no doubt many of us, including myself, are nervous about the next chapter ahead; to meet new people, to leave the place that has been our home since we can remember.

“However, there is excitement when it comes to this next chapter. Leaving high school is a change many of us are trying to accept. It is a day full of excitement knowing your hard work has paid off but it is also a day where you leave behind the students you have been with, many of us since kindergarten, not knowing when the next time you will see any of them."

Colton Gunter, who is the battalion commander of the school’s JROTC, and the JROTC Color Guard presented the colors and the national anthem was sung by Samantha Cox.

Senior class vice-president Sara Williams gave the welcoming address and Summer Hodges, senior class secretary, recognized special guests which was followed by singing of the alma mater.

Assistant principal Russ Winter and faculty member Dr. Jessica McBride presented the graduates and Dr. Trey Robertson, assistant superintendent of Teaching and Learning, conferred the awarding of diplomas at which time there 144 new members of the Bryan County High School alumni association.

Honor graduates in addition to Strickland and Butler were: Maegan Beck, Kloey Bidwell, Sarah Bryan, Joseph Burnsed, Emily Butler, Daniel Curry, Laci Doyle, Linsey Doyle, Pascal Ellison, Allison Ennis, Colton Gunter, Kelly Longino, Jesse Lord and Sara Williams.   

BCHS valedictory speech Graci Nicole Strickland:

Good morning, it is an honor to stand before you all today as Bryan County High Schools class of 2023 Valedictorian. On behalf of all the graduates, I would like to thank everyone here for joining us on the much-anticipated occasion! The past 13 years have been full of growth… trying to figure out what we want our next journey to hold, a place where we have developed friendships we will never forget, teachers that have made such an impact on our lives, and a school house that has helped shape us into the person we are today. Today is the day we have all been waiting for; I want to take a moment and reflect on the past 13 years as we prepare to enter the next chapter of our lives. So parents, faculty, alumni, graduates, and distinguished guests if you would please look around, we have all come here to witness as the class of 2023 transitions into the next stage of our lives. I feel as for many of us, this is a moment we did not think would come and one we are not ready for it to end. When I look at the people in front of me I see a field full of uniquely talented classmates who I believe will make their mark on the world. There is no doubt that many of us, including myself, are nervous about the next chapter ahead; to meet new people, to leave the place that has been our home since we can remember, and to make memories all while achieving the goal we set out to accomplish. However, there is excitement when it comes to this next chapter. Leaving high school is a change, many of us are trying to accept, it is a day that is full of excitement knowing your hard work has paid off, but it is also a day where you leave behind the 139 students you have been with many of us since kindergarten not knowing when the next time you will see any of them. As we enter into what many call the real world we will be faced with successes and setbacks. Where I may grow, another might have to work harder and where they may succeed, I might have to persevere. And I cannot stand up here today and tell you how to live your life, what I can say is that you have as much opportunity to succeed as the person beside you.

This opportunity would not be possible without the special people around me. The group of teachers, mentors, friends, and above all family. Everyone of us has those special people and family that has helped them along the way. Connor and Emma, thank you for leaving me alone just long enough to be able to finish the assignment I was working on for you to eventually come right back in the room to bother me again.

But I genuinely cannot thank you enough, you both have been there for me so much and I couldn’t have done it without you both. Finally to my parents Robert and Kasey there are no words to describe how thankful I am to both of you! Class of 2023 I know you join me in thanking your family for always being there, and for always supporting you no matter what the challenge was at hand. Through the countless teachings of being true to ourselves and constantly living life to the fullest and letting our light shine, you all have shaped us into the people we are today!

We love you.

Throughout soccer season, Coach Barnhill would always tell us to be a Goldfish, this is simply because goldfish have such a small brain they are unable to retain the amount of memory as other fish. So whenever something doesn’t occur the way you anticipated or things simply just go wrong, just forget about it, keep putting one foot in front of the other, and remember that tomorrow is a new day (so be a goldfish). You should not let the things that have happened in the past affect how you do things in the present. At some point in our lives, we will be the man or woman being challenged and critiqued. But to everyone sitting on this field, go after the things that scare you, do the impossible, and do not let anyone tell you there is something you can not do. As we soon leave this football field and go our separate ways I urge you to think about the ways you can live your life in the most dynamic ways, chasing the things you want. Live every day to the fullest and allow yourself time to look back on all your accomplishments and feel all the things life has to offer. We will forever be connected as Bryan County High School’s class of 2023 and the memories shared, so take this next chapter willingly and let all the challenges come your way. Make relationships with the people around you and you will all have meaningful and successful lives that are filled with memories that will continue to last a lifetime.

Thank you!

BCHS salutatory speech Rusty Kevin Butler Jr.

BCHS salutatory speech Rusty Kevin Butler Jr.

Ladies, gentlemen, classmates, and those who accidentally wandered into the wrong graduation ceremony, first, let me just say how honored and surprised I am to be standing here as your salutatorian. When I first learned that I earned this prestigious honor, Jamal was quick to point out that I got 2nd place, but 2nd place in a 13-year competition really isn’t that bad. Now, I must admit that when I was asked to give this speech, I panicked. I mean, what am I supposed to say, and we all remember the STAR student speech. Should I share some profound words of wisdom?

Give you some life-changing advice? But I just want to stand and reflect on our high school experience. We have been through a lot of things from the pandemic, which changed everybody’s lives, to the bulldogs winning backto- back championships! Go Dawgs! During these 4 years we all started growing up and finding new hobbies, in my case that’s going to the gym every day of my life. The point is, it was a long and important time in our lives, but it went by fast. Looking back on high school, I think the most important things are the memories that were made. Just think about it this way, if you had a dollar for every adult around you that wishes they could go back to high school and relive the memories, you wouldn’t need this diploma, you’d be set for the rest of your life. Just slow down and enjoy the memories, reflect on the ones of the past, and make new ones in the future. Don’t take anything for granted and don’t take anything too seriously.

Enjoy life. Everyone here today has given me memories that I will never forget making. These have been some of the best years of my life, and I hope you can all say the same. Thank you.


Photos by Lindsay Miller for the Bryan County News.

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