BREAKING: Georgia Supreme Court upholds Dawson County man’s conviction for Hannah Bender’s 2019 murder
The district attorney recognized the "horrific” nature of Bender’s death, thanking those involved in the judicial process and stating that “justice was well served” in the case.
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Welcome to the future
DCHS sends off 195 graduates
4 Graduation pic 3
Lee Holley, right, receives his high school diploma from principal Wayne Chelf. - photo by Photo/Elizabeth Hamilton

With diplomas in hand and tassels turned, Dawson County High School’s class of 2009 has entered the next phase of life.


The rain held off for the Saturday morning commencement, which drew hundreds of family and friends to the school’s football stadium.


“All of us here can see the future in our grasp,” said valedictorian Paige Reece.


On behalf of her classmates, Reece thanked family, teachers and friends for the support and love that helped each graduate make it this far.


“Although the world right now seems incomprehensible, do not fear, but seek courage within yourself,” she said. “This is the day that we have all prepared for, and I hope that through our faith, families and ourselves, we are able to embrace our founding qualities and live life to the fullest.”


Nicky Gilleland, county school superintendent, encouraged and thanked the graduates. The veteran educator — who has been a part of the local school system for 51 years as a student, coach, teacher, administrator and superintendent — will retire next month.


“Seniors, you and I are both ready for and at the threshold of the next phase in our lives,” Gilleland said.


“The lessons we have learned will allow us to make our dreams come true, but we will never stop learning. Each day will bring another opportunity or challenge, that will awaken in us the desire to get up and learn something else.”


Gilleland stressed the importance of “relationships with teachers, friends and colleagues.”


“It’s never about what you’ve done or what I’ve done, it’s about what we’ve done together,” he said. “It’s about service to others and how you treat your families, friends and community.


“Through our relationships with others we encourage one another and give each other the strength to do great things.”


In congratulating graduates on their accomplishment, he emphasized service to others.


“If there is one thing I want you to remember, it’s this: Greatness is not measured by the number of people that serve you, but rather through the number of people you serve,” he said.


Wayne Chelf, principal of the high school, summarized the achievements and accomplishments of the graduates. He described the class of 2009 as a special group, which set a school record for SAT scores, one that exceeded the state’s average.


“It’s been my pleasure, my challenge, and my distinct privilege to work with you these last two years,” Chelf said. “I am proud of your many achievements and accomplishments.”


Chelf added that for the first time in history, the class participated in the state’s work force development awards program through the Work Ready iniative.


“Only two high schools in Georgia participated in the program at this level with their seniors,” he said.


According to Chelf, 116 members of the class have been offered or qualified for more than $500,000 in scholarships, grants and loans.


He also recognized former classmates who were lost along the way, noting that it was a “bittersweet day for us.”


Five chairs, draped in white and each with a red rose, represented the students whose lives had been cut short.


“These five chairs and roses remind us that this class has experienced more tragedy in their school careers than anyone so young should be required to endure,” Chelf said.


In closing, he offered encouragement to the newest DCHS alumni.


“You are a very special group of young men and women, and I am proud to have known you and to have served you as your principal,” he said. “You have made DCHS a better school. You have been very close to each other, teachers, administrators, coaches and staff and to your community.


“As you move on today, Dawson County will always be a part of you, and you will always be a part of us. You will be truly missed.”