Students who had eagerly awaited this moment for 13 years gathered at Tigers Stadium on Saturday morning to begin their future.
Dawson County High School said goodbye to its record-breaking, 260-strong class of 2014, the largest class to graduate from the system, according to officials.
The class of 2014 was comprised of a school record 124 students eligible for the HOPE scholarship, 16 Zell Miller scholarship recipients, 95 scholarship recipients valued at more than $200,000 and seven academic scholarships.
Athletically, the class boasts nine scholarships, 43 varsity teams qualifying for state playoffs over the years, 54 Georgia High School state playoff games, four region championships, 10 region runner-up teams and one state runner-up team.
"I have been told that this is the largest graduating class in the history of our school system. For so many students to find this level of success, it is a great indication of their perseverance and ability," said Dawson County Superintendent Keith Porter. "Graduation is truly a day to celebrate, and we are all very proud of our 2014 graduates and look forward to seeing them do outstanding things in the future."
It's a sentiment echoed by the high school's principal, Jute Wilson.
"They are an extremely talented group of young men and women who definitely made their mark on DCHS," he said. "Getting each student to graduation is truly a team effort and a culmination of their 13-year journey. We are confident this group is well prepared and we look forward to the many accomplishments that lie ahead in their future."
Valedictorian Chris Hamby summarized his peers when he spoke on the past and future of the class of 2014.
"I look at ... my fellow classmates ... and see drive and passion in every single person," he said. "Whether it be in the classroom, on the field or in the community, that drive has shown itself again and again as Dawson County produces state champions, respected scholars and even national organization presidents."
This year, the final goodbyes will not be just for the students. The commencement ceremony also marked the last for both Porter, who is retiring, and Wilson, who has accepted a position as Lamar County's school superintendent.
"With this being my last official act of superintendent ... I think that I can relate at how [the graduates are] feeling to a certain extent. You are probably feeling ... apprehension about the future and honestly, so am I," Porter said. "I remember feeling the same emotions 34 years ago when I graduated from Dawson County High School in 1980. But there comes a time when we all have to leave the comfort of our present situation and that time has come."
Porter gave the students one final charge as their superintendent.
"You have accomplished many great things throughout the years. We have the ability to choose the way we use our time and I challenge you to dream big about your future. I have heard it said that we are not truly old or defeated until our regrets take the place of our dreams. Hold onto your dreams and avoid regrets."