It was a glorious evening for commencement at Elkin High School’s Grissom Stadium Friday night, one that the 82 members of the graduating class of 2015 and their families and friends will never forget.
Jarett Aedan Blackburn, one of the top-10 percent seniors, compared high school graduation to the lunch break he and his fellow Boy Scouts – some of them fellow graduates – took three years ago this summer while climbing Mount Baldy as part of a 90-mile trek through the wilderness.
Blackburn said the top of the mountain – the highest peak of the Cimarron Range in Philmont, New Mexico, is about 12,000 feet in elevation and can only be reached by climbing a rocky trail at a 30-degree incline.
“Now if anyone here has ever hiked at that angle,” he said, “I can tell you now there is nothing more annoying than climbing up rock at such a steep grade with the equivalent of about 700 feet of elevation gain in less than half a mile.”
Before embarking on their final ascent up to the peak, Blackburn said they sat down for lunch overlooking the trail they had already defeated. The climb they had remaining was also visible. “Now looking back on it,” he said, “the most beautiful part of that entire trip was that moment of rest we took on that beautiful grassy mountainside.
“It wasn’t beautiful because it was near the top and there was nothing more to obstruct our view,” Blackburn said. “It was beautiful because from this point I could see what we had accomplished and I could see that there there was more to come … because we weren’t done battling that mountain.”
Graduation is like that lunch break, Blackburn told his fellow classmates. “Yes, today is a great day, a day for celebration and reflection and relaxation, but just let me remind you … There is still more to go …” he said. “There may be places on the trail where we want to give up … but now that we know what we are capable of and we see where we want to go, by God, we are going.”
Other top 10 percent seniors participating in the graduation ceremony were Joshua Alexander Strickland, who led the Pledge of Allegiance; Katherine Anne Tweddell, who gave the invocation; Braden Daniel Sprinkle, who welcomed everyone to the commencement; Aspen Blake Jackson, who spoke on “And … Scene;” Matthew Bernard Schumak, who spoke on “Unfaltering Convictions;” and Class President Frances Gillian White, who spoke on “Our Production.” Connor Warren Nance gave the farewell.
Principal Joel Hoyle addressed the graduates, telling them how much he had enjoyed getting to know them. “You have certainly made an impact on my life,” he said. “I love my job because I get to spend every day with the students of Elkin High School. Thank you for the memories you’ve provided me.”
Hoyle reviewed some of his favorite memories of the Class of 2015, including the seniors singing the school song after every game, “win or lose;” the Battle of the Bridge; and the school’s state championships.
“I’ll remember the seniors’ play with our talented seniors …” Hoyle continued. “I’ll remember walking into my office Friday to find blue and yellow streamers and tin foil. I’ll remember waking up one Sunday morning and again this morning finding my yard and my house covered in toilet paper.”
Graduates responded with loud cheers.
“Woo hoo, yeah,” Hoyle responded.
While graduation is a culmination of 13 years of their educational lives, the principal continued, “tonight’s not an ending. It is only a beginning. I truly wish each of you the best and look forward to hearing of your future successes.
“And of course, I cannot leave without saying one last time, today is a great day to be a Buckin’ Elk.”
After Assistant Principal Cassundra Morrison announced the names of each graduate, Hoyle presented them with their diplomas. Elkin City Schools Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe and Board of Education members Frank Beals, Dr. Richard Brinegar, James Freeman, Dr. Jane Riley and Harry Sullivan also participated in the commencement, congratulating graduates as they walked down the stairs from the stage, all of them pausing for a photograph before going back to their seats.
The Elkin High School Chamber Singers directed by Tonya Smith, director of choral music, sang “The Star Spangled Banner” by Francis Scott Key after the Presentation of Colors by the Elkin High School JROTC and the Pledge of Allegiance and ”Omnia Sol” by Stroope, after which Hoyle delivered the declaration of the Class of 2015 graduates.
The processional, “Pomp and Circumstance” by Elgar and recessional, “Fanfare” by Lemmons were performed by Amy Johnson.
Also participating in the graduation were Junior Marshals Madeline Claire Barron, Carolyn Alia Blackburn, Austin Christopher Coley, Palmer Anne Duncan, Tyler Curtis Eaton, Allegra Ramazani Fiets, Annika Ramazani Fiets, Kennedy Routh Freeman, Ally Renee Gentry, Madison Katherine Shoemaker and Brendan Harrison Spencer along with Mascots Rosalie Lennon Ericksen and William Jordan Tomlin.
Family and friends of graduates began filling up the home side of the stadium stands an hour before the 7:30 p.m. ceremony.
Starla and Scott Gambill arrived early to see their nephew, Logan Johnson, graduate. “I have not seen him yet,” Starla said. “We’re excited for him.”
Being at the graduation brought back fond memories for Starla, a 2003 graduate of Elkin High School.
Denise and Mark Lovett were there to see their son, Jordan, graduate. His sister, Allie, a rising sophomore, said she was excited for her brother. “I’m glad it’s finally happening,” she said.
Deanna and Thurmond Brooks were there to see their grandson, Braden Daniel Sprinkle, who was atop 10 percent senior. Deanna said afterward that she thought he did a great job with the welcome. His parents and several other family members joined them in the stands.