Graduation is always a time of celebration. Students are marking the end of their primary education and the beginning of their careers – whether they are moving on to college, the military or into the workforce.
For the Pocahontas County High School Class of 2022, the celebration was heightened due to the rough and tumble four years they spent in high school.
Their time in high school was bookended by a freshman year and senior year spent in the usual fashion – roaming the halls, learning in classrooms, attending games, dances and special events.
The two years in the middle were much more chaotic than they could have ever imagined. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the students spent their school days online or in person with masks on. They were put through the ringer and found their way through, standing tall at the end of that long tunnel with their heads held high and their sights set on the future.
Valedictorian Sarah War-der began her speech by expressing gratitude for the families, friends, school staff and coaches who have shaped the students during their high school careers.
“You’ve made a world of difference in someone’s life because, I know, personally, there are so many of you here that have played a huge role in making me who I am today,” she said. “So I can’t imagine the support that’s been given to all of us individually.”
Instead of reflecting on the past, Warder said she wanted to share the most valuable lesson she learned this year.
“I found out that focusing on what you want in life, where you want to be, who you want to be and disregarding whether anyone believes you are capable of it or not, is the best thing you can do when it comes to reaching your goals,” she said. “It eliminates boundaries that you’ve subconsciously put up in order to please others.
“This obviously doesn’t mean to start ignoring what everyone has to say and feel, because being aware of other’s feelings and opinions is necessary and completely different than allowing them to hinder your potential because of what they think,” she continued. “Just learn to not give a second thought to what others may perceive you as, especially when it comes to where you’re from, what you look like, your family, you financial situation – the superficial predeterminations they make based on these things will only hurt them, not you.”
Warder explained that maintaining a focus on yourself and what you want out of life will open doors you never knew possible.
“The best way to get to this point is to find and surround yourself with the people that you can feed off of, that motivate you and make you your best self – which again – isn’t measured by anyone but you,” she said. “So go try things you’ve made yourself believe aren’t possible, because from my experience, they are actually very much possible. And from my experience, you’ll learn the most you’ve ever learned, grow the most you’ve ever grown, accomplish the most you’ve ever accomplished and be the proudest you’ve ever been.”
Co-salutatorian Rachel Burns also shared her appreciation for the staff, family and her fellow class- mates who helped get the class to graduation day.
“One of the skills I was taught by a coach that never actually coached me, but I’ve had the pleasure of calling Dad, was communication,” she said. “Talking to others and making connections will take you far in life. So go out of your way to make new friends. These people can potentially allow new experiences and new chapters in your life.
“As Randy Pausch once said, ‘When we’re connected to others, we become better people.’”
Co-salutatorian Macaden Taylor reflected on the past four years and how being a student athlete shaped her into the hardworking individual she is today. She encouraged her classmates to go out into the world and to follow their dreams.
“You did it,” she said. “You’ve reached this big milestone in your life, and you should be proud of yourself because there are so many people that are proud of you and who you are becoming, even if you don’t think so. Now you need to follow your dreams and not let anyone stop you, but most important, you must go find a new tribe, but never forget your first and the best tribe here as a proud Warrior of Pocahontas County High School.”
Sharing reflections of the past four years were Makayla Vandevander, Nathaniel Evans, Makenna McKenney and Hazel Riley. Makayla Ervine gave the farewell address before the diplomas were presented.
Once the seniors crossed the stage and received their diplomas, it was time for principal Joe Riley to give his closing remarks.
Riley said he asked several seniors earlier in the week what he should include in his speech. He received suggestions to “keep it short – congratulate us, wish us well and be done with it,” and to “tell us you’re proud of us.”
Riley did just that, congratulating the class on successfully completing the maze of high school and said he was indeed proud of all of them for the accomplishments they have had in the past four years.