Khristopher Rosario-Ramirez made a promise to his parents that he would graduate from high school.
He did just that at South Aiken High School's commencement on Thursday. Rosario-Ramirez faced some challenges along the way: At the age of 10, he moved with his family from Puerto Rico.
“It was pretty tough, as I didn't speak English,” he said, “but it means a lot to me and my family to be here tonight.”
Rosario-Ramirez also received a welding certificate at the Aiken County Career and Technology Center on Wednesday. He is headed to Savannah River Nuclear Solutions for its nuclear welding program.
Valedictorian Allison Burrell encouraged her classmates to focus on “momentum” in their lives, propelled by their own accomplishments.
Regardless of their field of choice, college or the military, “Push yourselves in the next phase,” Burrell said. “What an exciting time for us.”
At the end of the Aiken High School ceremony on Thursday, the graduates raced to the back of the Convocation Center to pick up their diplomas from the teachers.
Donneshia Bell took the opportunity to give a hug to Bruce Bryant, the NJROTC senior chief.
“I was in ROTC for three years, and it really made me who I am today,” Bell said. “I was helped with my leadership skills, and I was able to become a better person.”
Linda Strojan, the senior guidance counselor, congratulated the students – citing one award after another what seniors throughout the school had received. She drew an applause from parents and other family members, announcing that the seniors were offered $17.6 million in scholarships this year.
Patrick Judd served as the commencement speaker. Valedictorian Ben Shumpert and salutatorian Ian DeMass also addressed their classmates.
Judd noted that celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Snooki have net worths in the $200 million range.
“That's 500 times greater than the average high school graduate,” he said. “It's not fair, but that's the reality‚ but we are capable of so much more.”
Following the North Augusta High School graduation ceremony, Summer Neal and her sister, Savannah, spoke rapidly over each other's words – surely nothing new for the twins.
“It's going to be really tough,” Savannah said. “We've never been separated before.”
“We've been in all the same classes together,” Summer added. “I can't imagine her not being around. It won't hit me until I leave.”
She will attend the University of South Carolina to study women's and gender studies. Savannah will stay closer to home, majoring in sociology at USC Aiken.
Valedictorian Sheena Amin and other classmates received $3,000 scholarships from the Paul Knox Education Foundation. She was joined by Bronwyn Bigger, Tonya Bledsoe, Ryan Boileau Jr., Alison Dinkins, Salutatorian Nicole Fuller, Ryan Hammond, Alaina Miller, Allison Owings, William Smith and Julia Spieker.
When he was asked about the opportunity to wear the cap and gown, Meshach Joseph immediately responded with a grin: “It's really hot right now.”
Then he said how it means a lot, because “You don't predict how it's going to end. You just have to keep on fighting and be strong.”
Joseph plans to study automotive technology in college.
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter and has been with the newspaper since September 2001. He is a native of Walterboro and majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.
Photo galleries, watch live
Can't make it to your graduate's ceremony?
Watch live coverage of high school graduations today at www.aikenstandard.com/ or on Atlantic Broadband Channel 12. Photo galleries of each graduation will also be posted the website.
DVDs of each graduation may be pre-ordered at the ceremony or online at aikenstandard.com/astv.
Friday graduation schedule
Silver Bluff High School - 9 a.m.
Midland Valley High School - Noon
Wagener-Salley High School - 3 p.m.
Ridge Spring High School - 6 p.m.
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Twins Summer Neal, left, and Savannah Neal, North Augusta High School graduates, will separate for the first time this summer - Summer at the University of South Carolina and Savannah at USC Aiken.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Thoroughly enjoying commencement exercises are North Augusta High School seniors Ta’Jaelia Knight, left, and Cheyenne Lamar.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Aiken High School senior Brianna Sapp celebrates graduation with her grandmother, Annie Mae McMillan.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Candace Andrews waves to a fellow graduate at Aiken High School’s commencement.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Aiken High School graduate Anna Tovo is greeted by her cousin, Blake Underkofler.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Michael Coleman, an Aiken High School graduate, gets a kiss from his sister, Caitlyn.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Aiken High seniors celebrate by singing the alma mater during commencement on Thursday.×
Staff photo by Bill Bengtson Fox Creek High School valedictorian Erin Holley and salutatorian Forrest Whitfield, having concluded their remark during the commencement ceremony Thursday, form “fox faces” with their fingers.×
Staff photo by Bill Bengtson Fox Creek High School graduates perform the traditional cap toss at the close of the graduation program on Thursday evening.×
Staff photo by Bill Bengtson We did it! Fox Creek High School’s Taylor Cooper and Nick Hughey share a hug Thursday evening after their commencement ceremony.×
Staff photo by Bill Bengtson It’s real! Fox Creek High School’s Terrance Hillary confirms his diploma’s authenticity Thursday evening while classmate Allison Herron adjusts his tassel for him.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Leah Richards receives her diploma at the South Aiken graduation ceremony.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT South Aiken High School teachers rise to congratulate the seniors during the commencement.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT Participants in South Aiken High’s graduation program are from left Addison Darr, senior class president; Peyton Tharp, Student Council co-president; salutatorian Kirby Williamson; valedictorian Allison Burrell; and Savannah Turner, Student Council co-president.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT South Aiken High School graduate Khristopher Rosario-Ramirez, a native of Puerto Rico, is joined by his parents Jose Rosario and Tris Ramirez.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT South Aiken High School seniors sing the alma mater during commencement exercise on Thursday. Pictured, from left, are Michelle Campbell, Kayla Calvert and Madison Caldwell.×
STAFF PHOTO BY ROB NOVIT North Augusta High School’s top academic students addressed their classmates during their graduation ceremony on Thursday. They are valedictorian Sheena Amin, left, and salutatorian Nicole Fuller.×