A new generation of young adults was released into the world last weekend at Dawson County High School.
The DCHS Class of 2015 received their diplomas and turned their tassels Saturday morning during a graduation ceremony at Tigers Stadium.
The morning was filled with words of wisdom and encouragement for the graduates.
"While we are going on to bigger and better things, one thing we must never change is how we treat each other," implored salutatorian Jeri Ward during her speech. "In all my time in Dawson County, I have never seen a class behave toward each other like we have. I feel like we are a family. We have all helped each other out in times of need, seen the best of each other and put up with each other."
This "family" of graduates has achieved a number of accolades over the past four years, according to Principal Richard Crumley.
Students succeeded in both athletics and academics, with 138 Hope-eligible students, 13 Zell Miller Scholarships, 95 local scholarship recipients totaling more than $175,000, eight academic scholarships, 16 athletic scholarships, 100 senior interns working 23,000 hours and earning more than $89,000, seven students receiving community service chords representing 4,362.5 community service hours worked and four FFA degrees.
Various sports teams over the years have seen 46 varsity teams qualify for state playoffs that appeared in 76 Georgia high school state playoff games, nine region champions, 11 region runners-up, two individual state championships, one state runner-up, one Final 4 appearance, six Elite 8 teams and 28 Sweet 16 appearances.
"This class helped Dawson County to be named the Georgia High School Sportsmanship Award Winner and won the region All-Sports Trophy this year for the first time in school history," Crumley said. "It's a huge accomplishment for our kids and a testament to how hard they work and the support they get from their families."
Valedictorian Daniel Bettis charged his classmates to seek their specific treasures and go after them.
"As I am surrounded by my outstanding classmates...many of us will embark on our own journey," he said. "This may be college, a career program or a new job. Whatever that may be, follow your heart."
Finally, Dawson County School Superintendent Damon Gibbs gave his own challenges to the graduates.
"Today, I'm here to talk to the seniors," said Dawson County School Superintendent Damon Gibbs during the ceremony. "Today is a very special day in your life. It's the end of a wonderful chapter...that is unlike any other."
"After you receive your diploma today, you are free to do whatever you want. You are free to make choices as a young adult. I want to encourage you today to make three choices."
Gibbs encouraged the graduating class to set goals, get "outside the lines," and view things from a positive lens.
"Over the past 13 years, many of your choices have been made for you. In the last four years, you have been prescribed a curriculum and a magic number of units of credit needed to be considered a high school graduate. There is no prescription for the future. Each of you will take different paths."
Gibbs finished his charge to the students by breaking a convention taught to the students.
"You have been taught something over the years that I have to tell you today is simply wrong. You have been told that great minds think alike. Nothing is farther from the truth. I want to encourage you all to get outside the lines and think differently."
Ward said that she would miss her classmates, but that each of them was going on to bigger and better things.
"I couldn't have asked for better friends, teachers, colleagues and acquaintances," she said. "One benefit of growing up in a small town is that we know each other. I guess that is what makes this feel more like a family than classmates."
The graduation ceremony was dedicated to Anna Hawkins, who died in June 2013 after a fatal car surfing incident. A seat was also left empty in memorial as part of the lineup for what would have been her graduating class.