The Thomson High School Class of 2007 marched down memory lane in a graduation ceremony themed around an artist's masterpiece. Salutatorian Crystal Nicole McCorkle began the ceremony with a quote from Picasso.
"One never knows what one is going to do. One starts a painting and then it becomes something quite different," she said. "We have worked whole-heartedly on our masterpiece through our 12 years in school."
Although an artist may face a blank canvas with uncertainty, officials in the school system have been picturing a high graduation rate for a long time. Superintendent Mark Petersen said attendance at Saturday night's graduation was "probably the most we've ever had." Dr. Petersen said there were 220 graduates in the 2007 class, and the numbers are growing with each upcoming class.
"So we're keeping our kids ... and to me, that's been very good," Dr. Petersen said in an interview after the graduation. "We're beginning to see the fruits of our labor from when we hired (Principal Rudy Falana) in 2004..."
The three key speakers - Valedictorian Gloria Faye Holloway, honor graduate Amanda Hope Davis and STAR student Helen Suzanne Hill allegorically compared elementary school to a blank canvas, middle school to the initial paint strokes and high school to the emerging image.
"Our teachers instilled in us a drive to learn, not only in school but in the rest of our lives. ... Through the encouragement of our classmates ... teachers ... and parents, the lines on our canvas became slightly more defined," Gloria said.
Amanda recalled the breaking news events the class had seen through their years in school, including the first Harry Potter movie, the first American Idol episode and the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.
"On that day, I think we all grew up a lot," she said. "September 11 popped the protective bubble that is Thomson."
In her speech, Helen said the experiences of high school created a finished product; but, she encouraged her fellow classmates to continue their work on their lives.
"We have worked hard to be sitting here with a black hat and tassel," she said. "We are faced with more chances to succeed than previous generations. ... Due to our changing world, more is expected from us. ... Our future plans will change the course of our painting. ... We accept the challenge to make a unique masterpiece."
School board vice chairperson Georgia Hobbs said as a former teacher, she could appreciate the excitement of the evening.
"I was always ready to start the school year," she said. "But I was always glad to see the back of that last yellow school bus leave at the end."
Teresa Lane, the mother of Antakeyda Laresa Williams, said this year's graduation was a different experience because Antakeyda is the youngest of her four children.
"I'm just so proud, very proud," she said. "But it's emotional, too."