Dawson County High School's class of 2013 said goodbye to their alma mater Saturday morning as they set off on their "journey of a lifetime."
"Thirteen years ago, our journey started," said salutatorian Kacie Bearden. "It seems like just yesterday we were freshman, entering high school for the first time, meeting new friends and wondering if our four years of high school would come to an end.
"Although our days of high school have ended, our journey does not end here. We all have a future, and what we decide to do with that future begins now. It is up to us to make our lives what we want them to be."
The graduating class gathered with friends and family at Tigers Stadium on a sunny morning to receive their diplomas.
This was a class of records and milestones, according to Dawson County High School Principal Jute Wilson.
Of the class' 202 members, 110 were eligible for HOPE scholarships, 120 received local scholarships totaling more than $124,000 and eight received academic scholarships from universities.
In addition, a record 10 students received athletic scholarships, and one student earned a military scholarship.
"I don't know of a group of students I have enjoyed watching progress through school more than the class of 2013," Wilson said. "Their love of learning, of one another, and of life has left a mark on our school and on each staff member who had the pleasure of assisting these students on their journey."
Superintendent Keith Porter offered similar praise.
"In my 29 years as an educator, I have never witnessed a class that has as much school spirit and enthusiasm as the class of 2013," he said. "Not only did this spirit drive you to great accomplishments, but it brought a unique closeness to the members of your class that was obvious to us all.
"Your positive attitudes combined with your many talents have brought great joy to this community."
Members of the Class of 2013 also appeared in a school record 45 state high school playoff games and four region championship games.
Of those, 16 of the 18 varsity teams qualified for the postseason, 11 finished as region runner-ups. There also was one state runner-up squad and two teams that reached the elite eight.
"From our high academic milestones to our record-setting athletes, we leave behind a legacy that will influence the halls of Dawson County High School for years to come," said valedictorian and STAR student Spencer Roper. "Even though we may not realize it now, we are truly connected and everything we have done has impacted the life of another.
"We're going on to bigger and better things. We are about to take a giant leap into the future and our journey will take us to new heights."
However, Roper was quick to note that others played a large role in their accomplishments.
"We cannot take all the credit for our successes," he said. "Our parents are the ones who have made us high achievers, teaching us to accept our mistakes - not as failures, but as learning experiences.
"Our teachers have been the ones to guide and challenge us to be more than what we were. You shaped us into the graduates that we now are."
Before conferring the diplomas to the students, Porter gave the class of 2013 one final message.
"Hold on to your positive attitudes throughout your lifetime," he said. "You are the only ones that can control whether you look at things in a positive or negative light.
"There will be difficult times in your life. You will have to decide how to handle those times. I charge you to stay above those things that would deter or derail your happiness and success."