For college-bound seniors Stephanie Martin and Zuleyka Hamilton, Friday also marked a transition in their friendship.
The two have been in the same class since seventh grade, and are headed off to different schools in the mountains of North Carolina. They expressed mixed emotions as they arrived at Raider Stadium from a graduation party their parents threw them before the ceremony.
“I’m excited and scared to death at the same time,” said Martin, a future Appalachian State Mountaineer.
“Really, I’m just nervous,” the Western Carolina –bound Hamilton said. “But the Class of 2010 rocks!”
All of the graduates gathered behind the Gurney R. Kindley Field House in cap and gown before marching out onto the field. The mood was bright and many had trouble expressing their feelings.
“I’m just excited for these kids and their parents and guests right now,” RSHS Principal Cory Satterfield said as the lines formed. “What stands out in my mind about the Class of 2010 the most is the academic awards banquet, and the fact 169 of these kids received $2.9 million in scholarships. Here tonight, 442 graduates are going on to another phase in life, and that’s fantastic.”
In the bleachers parents, relatives and friends of this year’s group of Raiders were also experiencing a bevy of emotions.
“All I can feel right now is how proud I am of my daughter that she has finally made it,” Melissa Williams said. She was there to see her daughter, India Allen, walk. “It was a long road, but she’s finally here.”
Allen’s stepfather, Lee Williams, described his emotions with one word and a hand gesture.
“Relief,” Williams said, wiping his hand across his forehead dramatically. “I’m proud of her. It took a long time and a lot of sacrifices to get her through school, but here she finally is.”
Two rows behind them, Ricky and Cynthia Dockery sat under an umbrella to block the late evening sun as they waited for their son Ricky to walk out on the field.
“I’m glad this 13 years is done with, and I’m just so happy for him,” father Ricky said. “He’s done really well.”
Cynthia said there is some anxiety about Ricky going out into the world, but it’s as pleasant as anxiety can be.
“We’ll be sitting right here waiting for him to come back – and he’d better come back,” Cynthia said. “As a mother, I’ll always worry about him, but he’ll do well out there. He’s a good person.”
As the Class of 2010 walked out onto the track, a din of cheers rose up from the crowd, and many of the graduates turned to wave to loved ones.
“It seems like just yesterday these students were just beginning high school, and for you parents, it seems like just yesterday when you were getting them dressed for the first day of Kindergarten,” Satterfield said. “Class of 2010, I wish you health, happiness and much success.”
In their addresses, valedictorian Farhana Shemna and Salutatorian Chelsea Adams each in turn charged their classmates with the mission to continue with their achievements rather than resting on their hard-earned laurels.
Adams recalled all the ways the group had used the phrase “Let’s go!” to express enthusiasm.
“I want you to take these words and apply them to your future with the same amount of enthusiasm as they had here at Richmond Senior High School,” Adams asked of her classmates. “… Let’s go graduating Class of 2010.”
“Tonight, we all have one thing in common,” Shemna said at the podium. “We are graduating from Richmond Senior High School, and we have our teachers, principals, parents, friends and God to thank for that.”
She asked that the class remember that falling down doesn’t equate defeat, “but it is when you refuse to get back up.”
The changing of the tassels was accompanied by a pair of fireworks displays, one from behind the fieldhouse, and another on the visitors’ side of the stadium showing the numerals “2010” on the bleachers, and a raucous celebration by graduates and on-lookers alike.
Back at the fieldhouse, some students said they realized Friday most likely marked the last day all of the more than 440 graduates would be together.
Still, others celebrated the way their lives were being transformed.
“I’m just glad to graduate, and ready to get started on a new chapter of my life,” said Cleve Baxley, who is planning to join the military. “The Senior Project put some doubts in my mind (whether I’d see this moment), but I did it!”
“I’m excited,” Brandolyn Covington said. “I’m going to miss my friends, but I’m happy. I never had a doubt in my mind I would see this day - I always had faith.”
Staff Writer Philip D. Brown can be reached at (910) 997-3111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.