By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Now is the time to embark on a new journey, Tupelo High School graduate Ainsley Hunt told her classmates during Friday night’s commencement ceremony at the BancorpSouth Arena.
Hunt was the student speaker during the ceremony that saw 398 students receive their diplomas.
“Do not think of this day as the end, but as the beginning of a new path in life,” she said.
Shortly before making her remarks, Hunt said she wanted her classmates to see themselves as individuals and to do what they have always dreamed of doing.
“There is only one you,” she said in her speech. “Do not let anyone change that. Have confidence in yourself that you can do whatever you put your mind to.”
Recognized during the ceremony were Balfour Award winner Mary Langford, valedictorian Rick Deaton and salutatorian Sami Whitwell.
Friends and family of the large class filled much of the arena. The band played “Pomp and Circumstance” for nearly 15 minutes as the seniors processed into their seats, and it took 26 minutes to read the names of all of the graduates. The class earned nearly $5 million in scholarships and had 20 students with perfect 4.0 grade-point averages.
“I addressed them today, and I told them how proud I was to be their leader,” Principal Jason Harris said. “They have been through some of the rough times at Tupelo High School, and to come out and have such a strong class is a statement that shows their perseverance, and it shows Tupelo High School is still among the best.”
The class was an energetic one, counselor Manessa Hadley said. She noted that many students also overcame adversity and several were the first in their family to graduate high school.
One of those was Jalan Atkinson, the third of four children in his family.
“It feels real good,” he said. “My whole family is proud of me.”
Asked how he made it, he cited the support of teachers and counselors.
“When it gets hard, you just have to stick in there,” he said.
Before the ceremony, many of the graduates talked about the friends they would miss and their memories from a multitude of extracurricular activities.
“I’ll remember all of the activities and everything you can do in high school,” said Ian Wilder.
Josh Lazore said he would remember 10th-grade anatomy and physiology teacher John Little, who got him interested in the medical field, and Hunt spoke of many meaningful English classes with in-depth discussions pondering the meaning of life.
“It is a little surreal,” Whitwell, the salutatorian, said. “…I was thinking about coming in as a freshman in H building and seeing all of the seniors, and then being one of them and graduating.”