There was standing room only in the Pocahontas County High School gymnasium Sunday as the community gathered to celebrate the commencement ceremony for 71 graduates.
The Class of 2019 filed into the gym in their maroon gowns – with a few surprises up their sleeves – as they begin the next phase of their life’s journey.
Co-salutatorian Logan Woodruff reminded his fellow classmates that they will always and forever be Warriors, no matter what path they follow in the future. Whether they enter a STEM field, join the workforce, are the first in their family to go to college or join the armed forces to defend our country – they will carry the pride and heart of Warriors with them.
“As we go our separate ways, we take the knowledge, skill and grit instilled in us in the past four years,” Woodruff said. “We are Warriors – prepared for our battlefield. Warriors are pro- blem solvers. Warriors are record holders. Warriors are pioneers. Warriors are the backbone of America. Warriors are champions. And, most of all, Warriors are men and women of war.
“As you can see, Warriors break barriers, defy the odds, venture into the unknown, power through any and all adversities, and today, we shall graduate.
“So, no matter what warfront you’re fighting on – on the highway, in the lab, in the forest, in the clinic, in the kitchen, on the slopes or on foreign soil – press the battle on like a Warrior.”
Valedictorian Taylor Tegtmeyer expressed gratitude for everyone who supported the class and made them the people they are today. The teachers, the service personnel, the community, family, friends and everyone in between who molded them into the young men and women who are now preparing for a new adventure.
“It may be hard to believe, but we weren’t always the darling angels you see before you today, and we all appreciate your guidance and effort in leading us to where we are now, giving us the skills necessary to take on the world,” he said.
Tegtmeyer looked out at his fellow classmates and reflected on how much they have changed in the four short years they spent in high school.
“These four years have been a crucial experience, in every way possible,” he said. “I have grown and matured, and I especially matured enough to know that I know nothing of being grown. I have made true friends, learned invaluable skills and came into my own as my own man. And I know I’m not the only one. You all have changed so drastically. Our freshmen selves might as well be totally different people. We have all been walking the same path, supporting each other and figuring out this life stuff together and gave helping hands every step of the way.”
While writing his speech, Tegtmeyer said he learned several lessons that he imparted to his class. First, his mother suggested using a famous quote, as is done in many graduation speeches.
“I responded, ‘I don’t want to quote someone else’s message, I want someone to be quoting me,’” he said. “And pondering that more, I quite like it. We should all forge our own path and strive to be the greats of tomorrow, just as we spread the words of the greats today.”
He learned another lesson when he shared his speech with math teacher Laurel Dilley and his father – both of whom said he was good, but could be better.
“Just coasting along, just barely doing enough, will never get us anywhere,” Tegtmeyer said. “We must always push to the very edge of our potential. Just settling for ‘good enough’ won’t cut it. I know it’s cliché, but we must always give as much as we can for our projects, our friends and our family. By doing this, they will thank you for your efforts, and you can stand proud at what you have accomplished.”
While they may be returning to being little fish in a much bigger ocean than the pond that was high school, Tegtmeyer said it was time to focus on celebrating the successes of today.
“Fortunately, and I speak with complete belief when I say this, we are the class that will make waves that will ripple through that proverbial ocean, not just in our community, but on a greater level, and I fully expect to see these familiar faces again in the news for the difference they will be creating in the world in these coming years and decades.
“But that’s far from now and in this moment, I say we should celebrate, and not just our latest achievement, but to the bonds we share and the promise of a bright future for us all. I want to give a personal good luck to all of you and wish you the best on any path you choose to take in your lives.”
Co-Salutatorian Mathias Solliday also shared gratitude for those who have shaped the lives of the class and the ones who will continue to make an impact on their lives.
“The people in the community around us made us who we are today,” he said. “Whether it was your family, church family or friends; all of these people played a part in our lives. I know, if it wasn’t for my church family, I would not be who I am today. These people taught us more life lessons than we could think of, and for this, we should forever be grateful for this amazing community we came from.
“Always remember this,” he continued. “We couldn’t have done it without them. If we think about everything all the people around us have done for us, it is truly humbling. All of these people freely gave to us. With that being said, from the Pocahontas County Class of 2019 to all in the crowd, we say ‘thank you.’”
As the students were called to the stage and received their degrees, they had a special surprise in store for principal Joe Riley. Most members of the class gave Riley a handful of marbles, as well as rolls of toilet paper – harkening back to the senior prank where the class TP’d the school.
Once the class returned to their seats, Riley gave his short address and message for the future.
He started by saying the students had two requests when he was writing his speech – make it short and don’t refer to the class as “captains of their own ships, setting out on the sea of possibilities.”
Riley said, “no problem.” He did take time to research and find how many students have graduated in the 49 years since PCHS was founded and – with the help of some students who perused old yearbooks – he had a number.
“This is not true statistical information, but it’s as close as we can get,” he said. “Taylor Tegtmeyer, you are the 4,876 student to walk across this stage to graduate from Pocahontas County High School. Kolton Workman, you are 4,946.
“Now, for the rest of you, you’ve had thirteen years of math, you can figure out where you are,” he jokingly added.
Riley said if they ever wonder where those former graduates are, all they have to do is look around.
“You see them every day,” he said. “You pass them on the road, taking their kids to school. You pass them on the road. They’re driving trucks. They’re making your meals. They’re flying airplanes that go over top of us. They have invented things that you have today in your possession. They are right now inventing things that we don’t even know exist.
“So after today, you’re going to be following in their footsteps,” he continued. “Where are you going to be? Some of you are going to remain in Pocahontas County. Some of you are going to remain in West Virginia. Some of you are going to go as far as California … South America. Some of you will be all over this world.”
Riley said he had five things he wanted to make sure the class remembered – Number one – thank the people in your lives who have molded you: your mom, your dad, grandparents, guard-ians, whoever. Also, make sure to call them because they want to know how your day was and “how you spent your money.”
Number two – invest yourself in people, your home and your community. Be a good friend, neighbor and co-worker.
Number three – invest in yourself. Be happy in all that you do. Find a place that makes you happy. Find a job that makes you happy. Surround yourself with people who make you happy. Also, be sure to take care of your body and mind.
Number four – remember where you came from. Appalachians have a special set of skills that others envy. “You’ve got the grit and the desires that a lot of other kids wish they had, so don’t ever forget where you came from,” he said.
Number five and lastly – don’t forget the high school’s phone number.
“If you’re ever lost, or you ever need anything, I want you to pick up the phone and I need you to dial 304-799-6564 and there will be a person who will answer and say, ‘Good morning, Pocahontas County High School, this is Cindy, how may I help you?’ If you ever get lost, just remember that number,” Riley said.
“Those are my words of advice and wisdom,” he concluded. “Good luck to all of you, and God bless each and every one.”
At the end of the ceremony, the graduates turned their tassels and the air was filled with confetti as “poppers” exploded in their midst.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org