Members of the Thomson High School Class of 2011 clutched their diplomas, heard wisdom and shared wisdom Friday in the graduation ceremony at The Brickyard.
"We end a chapter in our own life and begin a new one," senior class president Nic Wood said in his welcoming comments. "We mold our own future," he reminded his classmates.
Parents and extended family filled the bleachers and leaned against the fence that rings the gridiron. Many carried balloons and gifts for the graduates.
"Today's her birthday and she's graduating," Lea Brennneman, 10, said as she held a shower of balloons for her sister, Mary Husk.
Cullen Wallace, who earned the STAR student ranking, reviewed the theme "What Lies Behind." He led classmates through a word tour of 12 years of studies, fun events and grueling practices, of class rings and lettermen's jackets. He said they had embraced the challenge of "finding the niche where we could benefit others and ourselves."
Salutatorian Mary Caitlin Carpenter, discussing "What Lies Ahead," reminded classmates of the dreams they had found as children, and told them, "We still possess the same power to do something wonderful with our lives." She said the possibilities were boundless, from military to college, to careers in medicine or law.
Valedictorian Taylor Renee Clark, discussing "What Lies Within," asked her classmates to work hard, maintain their initiative and follow their aspirations. She asked them to embrace higher expectations of themselves. She said their hard work had brought them to a bridge in their lives, to another path. "Tonight we start that journey," she said.
D'Arius Jamal McGahee, in his recognition of parents, said they have been the primary teachers. "You have been the bridge builders," he said.
In her farewell comments, graduate Grace Elizabeth Blackmon-Hughes said the most important day of the high school career had arrived. "All of the tests, projects, deadlines and stress of high school lie behind us," she said. "However, we also leave behind good friends, a wonderful alma mater, but most of all we leave behind our legacy."
The graduating class numbered 252.
Diplomas also were given to two classmates who had died. Lawrence Lee Harris died of cancer in fourth grade. and Rhusha LeMart Mack Jr. died of cancer in 2003.
"The class is probably one of the largest classes that we've had come through," Principal Rudy Falana told The McDuffie Mirror on Tuesday.
"The graduates were well behaved and represented their families and the school very well during the ceremony," Falana said. "We're proud that we have 30 honor graduates. The speeches the students gave were exceptional speeches, and they hit home with each student."
After the ceremony, families flooded onto the football field for hugs and group photos.
"I'm in tears myself," said Linda Gant, of Dearing. "My last two are graduating," she said. She looked on from the visitors' bleacher fence as Jessica Marie Gant and Stephanie Gant watched the final moments of the ceremony. "I told them I wouldn't cry and embarrass them," she said.