Carlie Dennard will be attending the University of Florida to pursue a degree in materials science and engineering. Cierra Johnson will be joining the Army July 7. Chinara Bryant will be attending St. Johns River State College. Justin McDaniel will be working as a welder.
But before they set out to meet those individual challenges, they had to face a final one together as the Palatka High School Class of 2015: an outdoor graduation ceremony threatened by rain.
Fortunately for the prospective graduates, the storm clouds shortly before the 8 p.m. start time and the event went on as planned at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium.
After Senior Class Treasurer Kaylie Trumble’s Pledge of Allegiance, Cierra Johnson performed a stirring rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
That was immediately followed by Senior Class Secretary Josh Williams’ emotionally stirring invocation, with a delivery as smooth as silk.
Kaylie Vinson, senior class president, and Allyson Futch, senior class vice-president, gave the opening remarks together.
“It feels like it was just yesterday that we were handed our freshman schedules as we were shaking in our tucked-in, collared shirts,” Futch told her classmates, referring to the district-wide dress code that was in place at that time.
Principal Mary Beth Hedstrom fought back tears at the end of her speech as she addressed her students for the last time. She paralled her morning announcements that she said the students had heard approximately 445 times.
“With something to think about, this is Mrs. Hedstrom, and I love you,” she said, her voice shaking. “Make it a great life.”
Phyllis Criswell, superintendent of Putnam County schools, spoke of technology during her speech. She told the graduates that they had grown up in a much different world than their parents and grandparents, with cellphones and computers a constant presence. “Never before have the people of the world been able to communicate instantly with each other,” she said, adding that events that happen in other places can and do affect them directly because of it.
Alli Carnes spoke to her classmates about the obstacles they will face as they each travel their own paths. “Embrace those obstacles,” she said. “Face them head on and have peace, because those obstacles are opportunities not only for us to rise above our limitations, but also to grow as people.”
Lauren Futch said it was the day the graduates started a new chapter in their lives.
“Some will stay in our small town and become its leaders. Some will go to big universities and become our next doctors. Some will join the military and defend our freedom. Some will move far away, never to be seen again. The future is what we make it.”