By SHANNON WATKINS
Pulaski County High School’s 39th commencement ceremony opened with a greeting from Principal Mike Myers, a solemn procession of students to Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” and one giggle-worthy moment.
“At this time—oops, that was wrong!” said Maci Reid Ratcliffe, class of 2103 student council president, to the audience’s amusement. She laughed, corrected herself, and led the assembled in the Pledge of Allegiance before the rest of the program got underway.
This year’s graduation did not include a commencement speaker, throwing the spotlight instead on the students, with brief remarks from Myers and Superintendent Dr. Tom Brewster, both who shook hands with each graduate as they received diplomas.
Graduates filed onto the football field two by two after the principal’s greeting, stood with the audience for the Pledge of Allegiance, and all heard the Senior Ensemble perform “The Star Spangled Banner.”
After a welcome from the Class of 2013 President Tyler Lethan Bray, Myers again rose to introduce the student speakers, Sydney Sherrell Anderson, Katelyn Jane Dobbins and Julie Anna Guthrie.
Anderson, voted Most Valuable Cougar, a member of the National Honor Society, and Miss PCHS 2012, among other honors, was unable to attend in person. Competing at the state track meet, she had prerecorded a message that was played for the crowd.
“To my fellow classmates, when we were five years old and were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, most of us answered an astronaut, the President of the United States or in my case, a WNBA basketball player. Although these answers may have seemed farfetched, they were not impossible in any of our eyes. Over the years, we have grown together…we have built memories together that only the class of 2013 will ever share. We arrived here four short years ago, and now it’s the time to graduate.”
Anderson thanked the faculty and staff, parents and coaches on behalf of the student body for their help and sacrifice, and ended with a quote and a final exhortation to her classmates.
“As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, ‘In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.’”
Dobbins, parliamentarian of the PCHS chapter of the National Honor Society, section leader of the Golden Cougar marching band, recipient of the John Philip Sousa Award in the high school’s concert band program, spoke next.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to stand before you all this evening, and speak to thousands of my closest friends and acquaintances. Graduation speeches have been done and redone a million times, but even with all those attempts at inspiration and humor, there’s always one line that every graduate is entitled to hear: We made it.”
She outlined the development of students throughout the years using a theme of plants, and said, “Now, as I stand before you, I see many things. I see a lot of sunburnt faces, a lot of excited faces, but most importantly, I see the most beautiful and diverse garden ever grown.”
Dobbins also thanked parents, teachers and fellow classmates.
Guthrie, commended by the National Merit Scholarship program, attendee of the Southwest Virginia Governor’s School, and future Yale student, rose to speak last.
She began by reminiscing about her first day of school. “My mom took me, and before we left the house, she took a picture of me. I remember her saying that she couldn’t believe how big I was getting…I was five years old, and I was excited, and ready to take on the world in my new shoes that tied.”
After painting a picture of life throughout her school development, Guthrie drew parallels between her academic start and the end of her public school career.
“Tonight is commencement, which means beginning. And it really is a new beginning. Do you know what tomorrow is? It’s the first day of kindergarten all over again. Tonight, I’m a little nervous and excited. I don’t really want this stage of my life to end. But tomorrow, I will be excited to be starting something new. Tomorrow, my mom will hug me and say she can’t believe how the time has gone by, and how big I’ve gotten.”
She spoke of learning and growing and ended by saying, “Everyone can, perhaps should, live every day like it’s the first day of kindergarten. Every day, hug someone and tell them that you love them. Every day make something beautiful and share it. Trust that people will help you when you don’t know where to go. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and help those who are scared or need help…Try something that you’ve never done before. And it will be alright, because you’ve done them all before, starting with the first day of kindergarten.”
After a congratulations from Brewster, Myers came forward to give another brief speech, honoring scholarship recipients, PCHS faculty and staff and parents, family members and guardians of the students, all of whom were asked to stand for applause.
After the presentation of diplomas, Brewster declared the students to be graduated and conducted the switching of the tassels from the right of their mortarboards to the left. His last words of praise were, however, drowned out in a loud round of cheers as parents snapped pictures and students yelled, sprayed each other with Silly String, batted beachballs over head and tossed their caps into the air.
Myers managed to get the last word, saying as he took the podium, “It says here, ‘Closing remarks,’ but I feel like I have Silly String in my ear.”
After the crowd’s laughter, he said, “Class of 2013, I wish for you great success in all that you do. Remember to dream bigger dreams, set bigger goals, work harder than your competition—success in many ways is achieved by effort. Believe in yourself, don’t let others tear you down, take responsibility for whatever you do, don’t worry about what you can’t control, and remember it is only failure if you quit. You can truly become anything you want if you set your mind to it. Go Cougars!”
The audience then rose to watch the new graduates leave the field, and enter the world.