High school seniors were socially distanced on the football field Saturday, May 22, to officially become the 59th graduating class of Floyd County High School under sunny skies.
Principal Barry Hollandsworth greeted the crowd at the ceremony and expressed his gratitude that more of the community was able to attend than last year, with each graduate having up to five family members watching from the bleachers.
“Seniors, I want each and every one of you to know how proud we are of you for your perseverance, resilience and determination to meet the very challenging last two years,” Hollandsworth said, before introducing Floyd County Public Schools Superintendent John Wheeler.
Wheeler congratulated the Class of 2021, referring to them as “our greatest resource.” He congratulated family, friends, teachers and staff, thanking them for being an important part of the seniors’ lives “for many, many years.”
“We appreciate all of you from your kindergarten teacher to everyone who touched your lives in Floyd County,” he said.
Speaking about unexpected life changes that all of us face, including a pandemic, Wheeler suggested challenges can be viewed, “not as obstacles that cannot be overcome, but as opportunities that allow you to become the person you desire to be.”
“Know that there is always someone here who cares about you — someone who wants you to be successful. There is always a safe place for you to return to in Floyd County,” Wheeler said. “Congratulations to each of you, not only for earning your high school diploma but for being there for each other, for your family and your community.”
There were two Salutatorians this year: Mallorie Gardner began her salutatorian address by offering “hellos” and “welcomes” in Spanish. She spoke about how she and her classmates have come a long way, remembering back to her Floyd Baptist Preschool days when she was three-years-old and experienced the trauma of stage fright during a school concert performance.
“If you had told me or my parents that night that I’d be standing in front of my entire graduating class and their families, it would have been completely unbelievable. But here I am, and I’m not crying and am heading to college as a communication major.” She concluded, “I know I’m not the only one who has achieved things that you never thought was possible. We’ve all grown as people, students and athletes in amazing ways in the past 13 years together and especially through the trials of this last year.”
Salutatorian Brook Smith spoke of the mythical year 2021, remarking how her senior year was nothing like what she was expecting and looking forward to. “If we learned anything this year, it’s that plans change.” She spoke about how she barely paid attention to the state of the world when she was younger, “and now I’m going to college to learn how to improve it.”
“In the past year, we’ve seen the best and worst of humanity struggle in front of our eyes,” said Smith, noting that world events can make us angry. “Channel your anger into action and activism to work towards positive change, resist injustice. Hate hatred. Reject untruth. We can use our anger to change, to create a better kinder world,” she said.
“Your time is now,” Valedictorian Tai Nunez told his fellow seniors. Nunez encouraged his classmates to escape their comfort zone and take some risks. He also gave a shout out to his high school history teacher and cross country coach Andrew Sayers, who he described as a mentor that always offered enthusiasm and encouragement to Nunez and others.
Assistant Principal Travis Cantrell called seniors to the stage one by one to receive their diplomas. Principal Hollandsworth gave each graduate a congratulatory fist bump. The exercises concluded with the fanfare of graduates moving their cap tassels to the left to signify their accomplishments.
Cheers erupted and some hats were thrown in the air before the graduates and family members dispersed, forgoing the usual parking lot after-graduation scene in favor of meeting in small groups throughout the school campus.