Armed with a diploma and a hug from Bryan County High School Principal Dr. Dawn Hadley, the 111 members of the school’s Class of 2014 graduated Saturday morning in a ceremony held before a packed house at the school gym.
“Remember there will always be people in this building who love you,” she told them. “You are a Redskin and this will always be your home.”
The ceremony began with a welcome from senior class president Kolbie Graves, who thanked family, friends, teachers and administrators for making it a memorable senior year.
“I’m overjoyed to know as I walk across the stage today you all will witness and also be a part of my final memory of BryanCountyHigh School,”Gravessaid, beaming.
Senior Courtney Cook led an audience, which included members of the Bryan County Board of Education and superintendent Dr. Paul Brooksher, in the pledge of allegiance, then Logan Wilkes sang “Lean on Me.” And later, Taylor McFarland sang the school’s alma mater.
In between were addresses by twins Ashley and Ansley Avera – the 2014 salutatorian and valedictorian, respectively. Their speeches were similar in theme, which is that life is like a masterpiece. Both sisters started by praising God, then thanked family and friends.
Ashley Avera spoke of a Rheinhardt University art professor who liked to take a piece of charcoal and mark a student’s work, then tell them to deal with it.
“(His goal) was to encourage students to step outside their comfort zone and predetermined idea of what the painting was supposed to look like,” she said. “Our lives are very much like a painting, and graduation is an unmistakable mark whether we’re prepared for it or not. Some of us might know exactly how the painting is supposed to look, others of us are free drawing … However, much like this professor, life does not leave us alone to create our own masterpiece without some charcoal forcing us to ‘deal with it.’”
Avera said seniors had already dealt with the loss of loved ones and other setbacks ranging from bad grades to divorce in the family to not getting into the schools of their choice. She also noted the marks are permanent.
“I’ve been told you can’t erase them,” she said to her fellow graduates. “You might be able to lighten them up in the painting, but for the most part the mark is permanent – in that art class and in life. We must take the marks and continue on.”
Avera continued: “Some marks in our life will be happy, such as graduation, others will be bitter, such as death,” she said. “They will make us strong and make us unique … this graduating is a large mark on our painting. It’s our responsibility and choice on what we do to it.”
Ansley Avera’s valedictory address recounted what had taken place during the past four years – from hurricanes andSandy Hookto the success of various sports teams and the senior classes’ academic success, which included more than $600,000 in scholarship offers. More than half qualified for the HOPE scholarship, she said.
“We left our mark on Bryan County High School just like it left its mark on us,” Ansley Avera said. “As we look back on our four years, yes we see these great additions to our masterpieces of life … They were not simply handed to us. Each triumph took hard work and perseverance and practice. We learned we have to push through … in order to accomplish these things.”
She challenged her classmates to continue to work hard.
“While there will be those frustrating charcoal marks, we have proven through these amazing accomplishments we are able to push through those hard times and make something beautiful,” Ansley Avera said. “I challenge you to go out in the world and make many more additions to your masterpiece, but don’t just add to your masterpiece, add to the masterpieces of those around you as well. Jut like we have left our mark on Bryan County High School, go out and leave your mark on the world.”