It's not unusual for young people to find themselves in high school, and Midland Valley graduate Jarrod Bridges readily acknowledged it at a commencement on Friday.
“I started out as a slacker,” said Bridges, now an honor student. “Then, as a junior, I realized how I needed to step my game up to do what I really wanted to do in life, which is computer programming.”
Three other high schools – Silver Bluff, Wagener-Salley and Ridge Spring-Monetta – held their graduation programs at the USC Aiken Convocation Center on Friday.
Other local high schools – Aiken High, South Aiken and North Augusta – held their ceremonies on Thursday.
Kaitlynn Haney, the Midland Valley valedictorian, described all the school's accomplishments and the students' support for the sports successes this year.
She encouraged her classmates to express their appreciation for their families, teachers and friends. Graduation is the first step to the rest of their lives, and the students should continue to move forward, Haney said.
The Midland Valley salutatorian, Kali Coleman, said students in the 2014 graduation class will go in different directions. Yet, when they look in their yearbook 20 years from now, “Your friendships will still seem important to you ... but don't let high school be the best years of your life.”
The Silver Bluff High School valedictorian, James Jacks, noted how the graduates come from different communities, but “Here, we are united.” There is a sense of family, as in “one big Blue machine,” he said. “We have bright futures, and the challenge is aim high.”
Carlos Sequeira joined his classmates at Silver Bluff's graduation, and that in itself is big news. Five months ago he was critically injured in a car accident, sending him through the windshield. He suffered a head injury and a shattered shoulder.
“My dad fainted when he thought he had lost his son, but I feel good now,” Sequeira said. “God has given me a second chance.”
He has been homebound since the accident. Sequeira has studied culinary arts with teacher Susan Few for four years. Since he returned home from the hospital, she has formally visited him there nearly every day to help keep him up with his schoolwork.
“He's a wonderful young man and has made a remarkable recovery. I call him a walking miracle,” Few said.
At Wagener-Salley's graduation, valedictorian Anthony Wiles cited the students' hard work and success.
“This is the beginning of the rest of our lives,” he said. “Take the first step in the future. Follow a path of life and don't let anything get in your way.”
All the students must be responsible for their actions and follow through to reach their future, said Ryan Brown, the salutatorian. He serves as the president of the school's National Technical Honor Society through building construction. Brown plans to major in architecture at Clemson University.
At Ridge Spring-Monetta's ceremony, good friends Shalonda Johnson and Shila Johnson joined other students with some informal dance steps before they lined up.
“We're a small school, just like a family,” Shila said.
“Our class has always gotten along,” Shalonda said. “We do almost everything together.”
Students from larger schools can't know all their classmates. Those at Ridge Spring-Monetta can walk through the halls and know everybody, even the freshmen, Shila said.
“Unfortunately,” Shalonda said with mischievous grin.
The honor graduates for Ridge Spring-Monetta were valedictorian Alyson Cromer and salutatorian BaChondria Raiford. In her remarks, Raiford spoke movingly about her challenges; she has a disabled right arm.
“To everyone who has helped me get to where I am right now, thank you,” she said. “Without the help of others, it would have been much harder for me to make it to this moment.”
Raiford also urged her classmates to stay positive and not be afraid of failing.
“It is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all,” she said.
Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard's education reporter.