A high school graduation like no other

Pam Dudding Contributing writer


Arguably, one of the most profound quotes ever made came from President Abraham Lincoln: “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”

As graduates, teachers, staff, family members and friends, one by one, drove into the first ever drive-up graduation ceremony, unbridled joy was in full abundance.  A sight “for the books” is how many described the gathering.

Craig County High School did get to have a graduation this year. It may not have been the Berglund Center formal, but that didn’t bother most of the seniors who walked the stage for their well-deserved diploma.

Their appreciation, joy and individual character created an atmosphere that no one could have decorated more beautifully.

Many seniors expressed they were happy to have had their graduation in their own hometown. “Our school gave us one of the best graduations anyone could have asked for,” said several graduates. “They did everything in their power to give us the best.”

Vehicles were directed to their appropriate spaces by the parking ushers. Instructions and a program was given to everyone. “I truly don’t know how they did it. We had over 200 vehicles; three rows of seniors in the front, 17 in each row with parking signs to honor them with their names on them,” Principal Melissa Whiting said.

The decorations, organized by Whiting with the help of many teachers and volunteers, made the stage a true graduation backdrop, and provided a memory that the seniors will never forget.

The sound system was coordinated by Joey Mayo and an FM transmitter was donated by Pastor Kevin Altizer of First Baptist Church so everyone could hear clearly from their vehicle radio.

The banner on the front of the stage read, “Congrats Grad, Class of 2020, the best is yet to come.”

Former President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” These Craig County seniors obviously did and are now on their journey towards a very bright future.

Many have paralleled success to be only money-oriented. However, the Craig County High School graduating seniors displayed the ultimate picture of success with friendship, love and fun.

With cars parked and everyone seated, Susan Crenshaw and Trace Bellassi began the commencement celebration.

The Pledge of Allegiance was led by CCHS Class President, Jaci Nicole McAlwee.

Whiting encouraged everyone to honk their horns in lieu of applause during the announcements of awards to celebrate the individual seniors’ accomplishments. Participation was plentiful.

Seniors certificates and scholarships were given out when they received their diplomas.

Whiting announced the Athletic and Achievement Awards. (Recipients named in another article)

“CCHS is extremely proud of our association with Botetourt County Schools through the Botetourt Technical Education Center (BTEC),” Whiting said. “We send two buses every day to assist our students in achieving their vocational goals. This year 12 graduated and many others received a two-year certification.”

Those students were: Makala All and Kristen Greenway (cosmetology), Layton Bell, Nathan Jones, Kelsi Medley and Kyle Sloss (welding), Jenna Bostic (aerospace technology) Britney Broughman and Jordan Staton (criminal justice) Mekayla Freese (criminal justice),  Sabrina Markin (auto body technician and auto service technician) and Chloe Ryan (information systems technology).

Whiting added, “CCHS and even as far back as New Castle High School has long been associated with the National Future Farmers of America Association which features an intra-curricular student organization for those interested in agriculture and leadership. The FFA, led by Ben Flinchum, has been very active in our school and community over the past few years. We have six graduates to honor for their work in FFA. The seniors wore their FFA cord.”

These students were: President Hunter Brizendine, Vice President Kyle Sloss, Sentinel Layton Bell; Treasurer Tori Blevins; Secretary Jenna Bostic and Senior Representative Chase Huffman.

The Honor Graduates who maintained a 3.0 or higher grade point average were: Makala All, Hannah Altizer, Victoria Blevins, Jenna Bostic, Hunter Brizendine, Mikayla Caldwell, Matthew Charles, Mekayla Freese, Kirstin Hannah, Dustin Hurley, Justin Hurley, Anna Looney, Sabrina Markin, Jaci McAlwee, Mattie Oliver, Garrett Paitsel, Chloe Ryan, Haleigh Smith and Andrew Wolfe.

CCHS has five seniors who are graduating as early college scholars due to earning 15 or more college credits through Virginia Western Community College. They are: Mikayla Caldwell, Hunter Jones, Jaci McAlwee and Joshua Menezes.  “However, there is one leaving us with 21 college credits,” Whiting proudly announce, “Maddie Oliver.”

Four seniors in the graduating class maintained a GPA of 4.0 or higher. Three received the honor of co-salutatorians, Lauren Faith Craddock, Kayla Alexandra Hudson and Hunter Michael Jones.  The senior who maintained the highest-grade point average at 4.207 was Joshua Menezes.

As the program continued, Hannah Taylor had asked the staff to allow her to surprise her family with a song. She sang her rendition of “I lived.”

Taylor added before she began, “I just wanted to thank you all for all the great memories and I am super proud to be graduating with all of you.”

Some of the words to her song rang close to home for her classmates: “I hope when you take that jump, you don’t fear the fall; I hope when the water rises, you build a wall; I hope when you fall in love that it hurts so bad; The only way you can know is to give it all you have; I owned every second that this world could give and with every broken bone, I swear I lived.”

Principal Whiting introduced their special speaker who was selected by the senior class. “High school teacher, varsity volleyball coach, husband of Pamela Boyer, father of McCleary Elementary students Ryan and Thomas and friend to all, please give a warm welcome to Mr. Geoff Boyer,” she announced.

Boyer walked up the steps with a big bag over his shoulder like Santa. He started his speech by sharing that Ms. Whiting was not his kindergarten teacher. Laughs could be heard from the vehicles after that.

“This is certainly unlike any other commencement that has ever been done before. I remember my high school graduation in 1994 for being hot and that is about it. You guys will have the distinct honor of having this ceremony from your vehicles. Most seniors mentally take a break and you guys literally did not come back after spring break. It is true that you have missed out on some memories. You will also have a unique story to tell that no one will ever forget. Many times, recent graduates are told to go out into the world and make history but the way I see it, you have already made history. Unfortunately, during these times, I cannot give you hugs, handshakes or gifts, but I can make a presentation, a demonstration, and a request. First, the presentation.”

He then invited Kyle Sloss to the stage. “Three years ago, I made a simple $5 wager with Kyle about not shaving until his graduation day. As you can see, I clearly lost that bet. So, that $5, much like Kyle’s beard, has grown many times over and I would like to present Kyle with a check for $100.”

Many horns tooted loudly and Kyle smiled widely as he accepted his check, sporting his eight-inch beard.

For his demonstration, Boyer invited Jaci McAlwee to the stage.

“Due to current events, we have all learned a new vocabulary. Quarantine and isolation, underlying conditions, N95 masks and social distancing have been buzz words and phrases used every day. With Jaci’s assistance, we will practice social distancing,” he said.

He then reached down and handed Jaci the end of a banner. Stretched open, it read: “Volleyball Pioneer District Tournament Champions 2019.”

As All-District volleyball player Jaci smiled, more horns in the parking lot were honked.

His final request was made. “In a time of abundance of change, next year will be a first, a school year at CCHS without John Crenshaw. He has taught for a lifetime. In fact, he has taught for my entire lifetime I believe. I’m sure that everyone here has several Crenshaw stories.” Crenshaw ended up bowing in honor.

He continued, “Before my request, let me say congratulations to the Class of 2020. I love you and you will certainly never be forgotten.”

CCHS School Counselor Evelyn Steege announced the many scholarships that the senior class received. (Recipients listed in additional article.)

Then, Crenshaw joined Whiting at the podium for the long-awaited moment for the graduating seniors to receive their diplomas.

Said Whiting, “Mr. Crenshaw is, without question, one of the most respected, admired, and loved teachers at Craig County High School. He has taught History in our district for an amazing 41 years. Forty. One. Years. He has taught all of the seniors here today and likely many of their parents and other family members. As I have traveled the halls of CCHS as principal, I often find myself in Room 151 listening to his diversified and extremely interesting lectures. Not to mention that I love the music coming from his room in between, and sometimes during, classes. Craig County Public Schools will never be the same without John Crenshaw. An era is over.”

“Enjoy retirement,” she added, directing her glance at Crenshaw. “Something tells me that you will spend much more time on the golf course than the rocking chair. You will be greatly missed.” He was presented with a beautiful wooden rocker with a rocket blue ribbon tied to the top.

He then announced the 2020 Candidates for Graduation.

As each senior was called, some ran to the stage, while others waved as they walked. Some had their hats decorated, while others sports cowboy or cowgirl boots, flip flops and bow ties. Some were shy, while others gave great gestures and poses after receiving their diplomas.

Craig County High School 2020 Candidates For Graduation were: Makala Fay All, Hannah Grace Altizer, Benjamin Michael Beard, Layton William Bell, Victoria Lynn Blevins, Jenna Lynn Bostic, Hunter Wayne Brizendine, Britney Alexis Broughman, Kaleigh Lane Bryant, Mikayla Leigh Caldwell, Matthew Keith Charles, Matthew Keith Charles, Lauren Faith Craddock, Mekayla Lynn Freese, Kristen Cheyenne Greenway, Kirsten Nicole Hannah, Alexis Katherine Hedrick, Dakota Chase Henderson, Jaden Ann Hibbitts, Kayla Alexandra Hudson, Kyle Andrew Huffman, Chase Harding Huffman, Maelyn Idell Huffman, Dustin Michael Hurley, Justin Lee Hurley, Nathaniel Bryan Jones, Hunter Michael Jones, Ashton Dawn Jones-Owens, Sierra Nicole Klotter, William Levi Law, Anna Marie Looney, Sabrina Marie Markin, Jaci Nichole McAlwee, Kelsi Danielle Medley, Julian Winston Meade, Joshua Eli Menezes, Nathaniel Keith Nichols, Madelyn Paige Oliver, Garrett Nathaniel Paitsel, Bethany Dianne Perdue, Jessica Ann Reed, Chloe Eileen Ryan, Autumn Nicole Sarver, Jess Forrest Saunders, Kyle Vance Sloss, Haleigh Alexis Smith, David Robert Smith, Jordan Haley Staton, Hannah Lee Taylor, Joseph Tyler Vass, Curtis Dale Wolfe, Jr. and Andrew Austin Wolfe.

Regardless of which senior crossed the stage, people tooted their horns, shouted from their vehicles and revved their engines for all of them.

As the afternoon concluded, Superintendent Jeanette Warwick took the stage, and confirmed the seniors with the awaiting words, “By the power invested in me by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State Department of Education, I now declare you Craig County High School graduates of 2020.”

Caps flew high into the sky out of many vehicles, while people laid on their horns and shouts echoed.

Whiting also announced that each graduate received a Susan B. Anthony coin as their first dollar earned after graduation. “This is a tradition that we hope to continue throughout the years,” she said.

Jim Cady, Craig’s best “Covid-Captain” as some have said, noted that CC School system did a great job in adhering to the COVID-19 guidelines. Whiting had given specific protocol to everyone attending.

Cady said, “The students and parents were fantastic following the established guidelines and ceremony planned by the school system. This shows the world your maturity. Class of 2020, you looked coronavirus straight in the face and beat it today. Be proud and remember for the rest of your life that you are strong, determined and winners.”

Afterward, a procession of the senior class and their families were led down Route 311 and Main Street from their vehicles.

Many businesses participated in honoring the graduates by decorating their buildings with balloons and signs. Community citizens lined the streets. Smiles were innumerable.

For those who remember their graduation day, it’s easy to recollect, that one’s young minds are swirling with thoughts, emotions and tons of unending decision-making.

After all was over, Whiting said, “I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome of the 2020 Graduation Event. As one of the salutatorians reminded us in her speech, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ and our village certainly went all out to celebrate our Graduates. The weather was beautiful, the atmosphere was upbeat, and, most importantly, 51 smiling seniors walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t tear up a few times. There were some emotional moments up on that stage. I will truly miss this group of students and it is my sincere hope that they felt fully celebrated to the best of our ability considering these unprecedented times. It was my honor and privilege to say goodbye to them as CCHS students and to wish them all the best.”

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