Nearly every seat in the 3,600-seat University of North Georgia Convocation Center was filled last Thursday by family, friends, mentors and former teachers of the Dawson County High School class of 2018 for commencement ceremonies.
Cameras flashed and the crowd called out as 225 students walked across the stage to get their diplomas on May 24, the final step in their 13-year long school careers.
As far as numbers go, the class of 2018 ended strong.
Thirty-two clubs, honor societies and extracurriculars were represented with cords, stoles and medals hanging around student’s necks. Seventy-nine students received scholarships to postsecondary institutions, outside of the HOPE and the Zell Miller Scholarships, amounting to $1.2 million. Twenty will receive the Zell Miller Scholarship, covering 100 percent of their post-secondary tuition, while around 122 will receive the HOPE Scholarship, covering 88 percent of their tuition. Eighty-three were honor graduates. Two students had perfect attendance for their entire school careers, and one was named the Valedictorian for her academic achievements.
But all have one thing in common: They have all learned that their education is their key to freedom.
Each speech, whether it came from senior class president Andrew Burns or Superintendent Damon Gibbs, reminded the class of 2018 that with a high school diploma, their options on where to go from here are endless.
Salutatorian Jacob Moore gave “the best loser speech ever,” reminiscing about his fondest memories and encouraging his classmates to trust in the Lord to find their path in life.
“Ya’ll know I’m not the most affectionate or touchy-feely type, but I’ve got to say my time here in Dawson County has really left a mark on my life, and that these last four years have changed me for the better, including all of the people I’ve met and all the things I’ve experienced,” Moore said, before commenting on all of the things that made the class of 2018 unique.
“From seeing an Ivy League athlete riding to school on a lawnmower, to helping Miss Teen Georgia do her calculus homework- and people say Dawsonville has no diversity? From accidentally walking into a green bathroom when your pass specifically says blue, to going more than a month without Chick-fil-A (those who really know me will understand how hard that is),” Moore said. “Enough about what’s happened, let’s talk about what the heck we’re all going to do with our lives.”
Moore said that he had recently heard from his peers that they didn’t want to hear statements about how everyone was going to leave high school and succeed in everything that they did. It isn’t realistic, Moore said, and it isn’t going to happen.
What will happen, he said, is that the Lord will guide everyone to their true purpose and ultimate destination.
“I bet a lot of you know what you want to do with your lives, while there are others who have absolutely no clue,” Moore said. “Either way, we’re all going through life and we’re either consciously or unconsciously looking for and living for our purpose, and that in and of itself is the whole point of why we’re here and why we’re going where we’re going. We’re made for a purpose, we live for a purpose, but what’s yours?”
Valedictorian Marley Hamby, who was also named STAR student for having the highest SAT score in the class, shared the same sentiment and told the class that they have the power to decide their path in life.
“Throughout our lives, the definition of success changes,” Hamby said. “When we were in elementary school, our biggest achievement was winning field day or Jump Rope for Heart. In middle school we began playing our first school sports and everyone worked towards winning the Mountain League Championship. In high school, things changed.
“Some people dream of being teachers, some doctors and some business owners. We each started working towards our goals and planning for our futures...Here we stand and ahead of us lies an abundance of freedom and opportunities. Now we get to decide who we will be, we get to define our own path.”
Gibbs also spoke, reminding the class of 2018 that freedom awaits them.
“It’s the dawning of a new day. No more being told what to do. Living the dream,” he said. “I fondly remember that sweet smell of freedom.”
Gibbs gave the graduates a list of advice he said would have been helpful to him when he graduated.
“Life is not fair. Being told ‘no,’ or having to tell yourself ‘no’ on occasion builds character. Learn the art of compromise, and create win-win situations whenever possible. Consider the glass half full, instead of half empty. Stay away from people that are negative about everything; if nothing makes them happy, you probably won’t either. There is no such thing as being on time; you’re either early or you’re late. Success is no accident; work hard and create opportunities for yourself. What you do is not as important as how you do it.”
Gibbs also gave a warning about the harmful effects of comparing yourself to others on social media, and urged the graduates to live in the moment.
“Social media is not your friend: The idea that everyone has a perfect life other than you is a complete lie,” he said. “Unplug occasionally and spend some quality time with the people who love you for who you are with all of your beautiful imperfections.”
Despite all of the achievements and successes of the class of 2018, they still took a moment of silence to remember what they had lost.
Four students and a teacher died during the class of 2018’s years at DCHS: Coach Jed Lacey, 58, and classmates Cooper Mitchell, 15, Tristen Donovan, 16, Arielle Devilla, 17, and Grace Sheer, 18.
“I want to express my sincerest condolences to this class for the significant losses that you have endured,” Gibbs said. “It’s been said that time heals all wounds, I do not agree. In time, the mind covers the wounds with scar tissue and the pain lessens. The wounds remain. There are no words that are adequate in moments like you have experienced in the past four years. I am truly sorry.”