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Class of 2017 graduates from Dawson County High School
A-Graduation pic 1
The Class of 2017 makes its way onto the field of Tiger Stadium on May 27 for the commencement ceremony. - photo by Amy French

The class of 2017 graduated from Dawson County High School on Saturday, signaling the end of an era for the students whose last years of school were full of scholastic achievements, extracurricular activities, first jobs and first cars.

It was the good times that were remembered in Valedictorian and Star Student Luke Ellis' commencement speech.

Ellis thanked God for the beautiful graduation day, parents for caring for their students and the teachers and coaches that mentored and guided the class of 2017 to the end.

His most heartfelt thanks went to his friends, who he said filled the past four years with happiness and laughter.

"I hope everyone here has good friends that you can trust and enjoy the company of, because in my opinion there is nothing in this world that brings more fulfillment," Ellis said. "Remember that no amount of success or wealth can take the place of relationships.

"When we look back on our high school years, we won't think about the textbooks or the standardized testing, we'll think about all the stories and memories we made with the people we care about."

The May 27 graduation saw 229 students receive diplomas, 79 of whom were honor graduates.

Counselor Kate Jarrard announced that the graduating class had received more than $1,200,000 in scholarships for continuing education.

Also recognized was Barry Alexander Thurmond, who had perfect attendance his entire school career.

Salutatorian Isabel Queen kept her speech short, but sweet.

She said she turned to YouTube for inspiration for her speech.

"There I found all the components of a good speech are not that far off from the components of a good life," Queen said. "Honesty, confidence, empathy and compassion just to name a few."

Queen said that though high school taught her and her peers many academic lessons, it's the life lessons learned that will help guide their futures.

"Now what matters is where we go from here," Queen said. "The challenge is to combine hard work, right attitude and determination into functional adults, who make the world into a little bit better of a place every day."

In conclusion Queen left the audience with a few inspirational phrases because, as she put it, what's a graduation speech without some cliches.

"‘Believe in yourself and you're already halfway there,' 'this isn't the end, it's merely just a new beginning,' and ‘for the most important decisions in your life, trust your intuition and work with everything you have to prove it right,'" Queen said.

Superintendent Damon Gibbs spoke to the graduating class about choices.

His speech centered on pop culture references that marked each of the student's high school years, such as the release of Disney's "Frozen," the popularity of dance moves such as the Harlem shake, the marriage of Kim and Kanye West and the release of Playstation 4.

"Whereas you will have very little influence on pop culture, you do have the power of choice," Gibbs said. "The decisions you make today will impact the rest of your life. So, listen more than you speak, laugh every day, make time for family and only worry about the things that you can change."

At the end of the ceremony, the class of 2017 was instructed to move the tassels on their mortarboards to the left, signaling their transition from students to graduates.

They left the stadium with "I'll be there for you" by The Rembrants blasting over the loudspeakers as family and friends gathered behind the stadium to await their newly-minted alumni.

As she waited, Queen's mom Dionne said she was extremely proud of her Salutatorian daughter, who she described as fiercely independent. Dionne said this was the first time she had heard her daughter's speech.

"It's been a wonderful four years," she said. "She's worked real hard, it's a sigh of relief."
Queen also won the honor of prom queen, and reportedly asked her mother (somewhat seriously) if she could wear her crown to graduation.

"She was so thrilled to have been nominated by her peers for that," Dionne said. "She's been on a ride these last few weeks."

One graduate, after receiving her diploma and being reunited with her family, seemed shocked that her time in high school had finally ended.

"I'm just very excited," said Nina Roberts, 17. "I still can't believe its happening!"