Pam Dudding Contributing writer
Though Craig County graduating seniors had to battle the pandemic Covid-19, they won and some even succeeded past their own expectations.
Principal Melissa Whiting announced at the 2020 High School graduation ceremony, that four seniors had maintained a grade point average of 4.0 or higher. Three received the honor of co-salutatorians; Lauren Faith Craddock, Kayla Alexandra Hudson and Hunter Michael Jones all maintained a 4.0 GPA. However, one senior maintained the highest-grade point average and was honored as CCHS Valedictorian with a GPA of 4.207, Joshua Menezes.
Each included in their speech, an appreciation of all who attended and helped them to receive their diploma. They all talked about the milestones they had to face during the Coronavirus pandemic as individual students and as a class, recalling the many things which they ‘missed out on’ this year such as; sports, events, prom, senior trip and many more.
Still each encouraged their classmates with love, determined minds and a kinship that will last a lifetime.
When Joshua walked to the podium, Whiting, with a smile, inquired of him of who his kindergarten teacher was. He replied with a grin, “Ms. Whiting.”
“I would like to thank everyone for coming for our graduation during these unprecedented times,” he began. “When the teachers told us, our Senior year would be here before we knew it, I didn’t think they meant it literally. I still remember back in August, when we thought that not having a Senior parking lot was the end of the world. Boy, were we wrong! As disappointed as I am that my senior year had to end like this, I am extremely excited to see each of my classmates use each of their talents to excel in whatever they choose to do in life. I hope that the hardships that we have endured this year will teach us to take advantage of every opportunity that approaches us without fear or failure. As a late Coby Bryant once said, “Once you know what failure feels like, determination chases success.” Some of my favorite memories happened in High School. I will never forget when we lit a match in Chemistry class to see if there was a gas leak, or the time we had a Juice world tribute concert in the boys bathroom. And although we didn’t get to experience it, I know I would have enjoyed my prom. Also, we managed to outdo last year’s senior trip. It turns out you don’t need a bus to have a bad time. I also want to take this time to remember all the teachers who have helped me along this journey. I will miss Ms. Boyer, smiling and giving us cookies only to then say that most of us failed her test,” he said. “It is a great honor to be this year’s Valedictorian and I would not be here today without the continued support of my family, my coaches and my friends. As the world transitions from toilet paper to burger hornets, the Class of 2020 is transitioning to the next phase of life, with new beginnings and endless possibilities for us to explore. Now I wanted to finish my speech, but I think it is only fitting to end it after three quarters. Remember, the coronavirus won’t last long because after all… it is made in China!”
After Whiting introduced Lauren Faith Craddock, co-salutatorian, she asked her, “Who was your kindergarten teacher? Craddock responded with a smile, “Ms. Whiting.”
Lauren shared, “When I initially sat down to write this speech, my pen failed to move. The only thing on my mind were all the things we did not get to do this year. And quite frankly it doesn’t feel right for me to stand up and tell you that we did it or that we beat all odds against us. I mean yes, we are finally graduating, but part of the reason why it was so hard for me to write this speech was because there are bigger issues happening right now as I speak to you. Times like these do not make me want to stand up here and give you a happy speech. Maybe if our year hadn’t been turned upside down, I would have been more excited about this speech. But as I stand up here today, all I can feel is this crushing weight on my chest. Is it selfish to want prom, senior trip and countless number of other things we did not get to do? People are dying and I feel like our problems are microscopic compared to what is happening in our world. I remember the last day of school perfectly, March 13. I was in English class, secretly checking my phone (sorry Mr. Phelps), when I got a text from my sister that said, what a great birthday present, no school for two weeks. I remember being so excited. It was like an extra spring break. I never thought it was going to be the last time I was going to be able to walk through those front doors, sit in the cafeteria or see some of my favorite teachers. I never thought I would miss walking down the hall, seeing Ms. Boyer’s passive aggressive smile or passing by Mr. Crenshaw as he says his typical phrase, “Hello men!” Like many of us there are a lot of things we did not get to do that were personal to us,” as she shared many examples including, “Maybe some of you just wanted to walk out those front doors for the last time feelings euphoric or do a burn out in the parking lot because what are they going to do, expel us? But I believe we have something to learn from all of this. If there is one thing this entire quarantine has taught me, it is to appreciate the little things. To my teachers I never realized how much seeing y’all every day would impact our lives. I have learned to value the personal learning because boy is it hard to learn calculus through a packet. My fellow classmates, I miss seeing y’all every day. To my parents, thank you for being the shoulder I cried on throughout all this. To Ms. Whiting, thank you for making sure we even got a graduation and I’m sorry for the email at 2am. Classmates, even though the future is uncertain, even though college may seem uncertain, even though job market is uncertain. We are resilient, we are strong, and we will prevail.”
Co-salutatorian Kayla Alexandra Hudson approached the podium. Whiting noted that Kayla did not attend kindergarten at CC, but asked, “If you had gone to kindergarten here, who would you have liked to have had as your teacher?” Kayla grinned and said, “You of course!” Laughter was heard out of vehicles.
Kayla continued, “Today we honor the graduates of CCHS a little different than we have in the past. But I am ecstatic that we even have the chance to do this. Today is a special day for all of us and though there are many restrictions due to Covid-19, we will always have a different story from any other graduating class. Covid-19 abruptly ended our senior year and we didn’t even know that our last day was our last. That has been especially hard to grasp. None of us got the’ last’, we all expected to have. We didn’t have the opportunity for a normal graduation, prom, any senior dinners or last sports season. Even though many of us have already started going our separate ways since the closure of school, today marks the day we truly part ways and do our own things. Today we can officially start a new chapter. Today we are officially, graduates of CCHS and we will finally get that diploma we have worked so hard for. As I look out into the crowd today, it is obvious we have a great deal of supporters that got us all here. None of us would be here without your support and all the help that you have given us along the way. They say it takes a village and we have been blessed with such an amazing group of people that got us here. I would personally like to thank Ms. Stacey Crowder. You were one of my school moms and I can never thank you enough for always being there and having such good advice to give me. I will forever be thankful for you doing science this last year with our sixth period class with preschoolers because if you hadn’t, I would have never found out that I wanted to become a speech language pathologist. But I think that we can all agree that there isn’t a teacher at CCPS that has not impacted our lives in some way. If there is one piece of advice that I would like to share with my class is to chase your dreams. Fearlessly go after what you want in life and do not let others judgement stop you. I was given this advice thanks to a sand truck driver who stopped by my house because I was a 2020 graduate. He told me to chase my dreams. Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot do anything, or you are not good enough to do something. We were all put on this earth for a reason and we are all meant to do great things. I hope that each and every one of us achieve every goal that we set for ourselves.”
The last speaker, Hunter Michael Jones, co-salutatorian approached the podium and Whiting asked the question of who his kindergarten teacher was. “You were!” he replied as Ms. Whiting smiled.
Hunter noted, “I wanted to say that this year has been anything but normal, yet we have still prevailed through these unfavorable times. We have our families, friends, teachers, and the staff at CCHS to help us through this year. Yes, we have missed out on a lot of special times. But with perseverance, we have overcome some of the more difficult circumstances and we are here graduating high school. My main message today is that we need to continue to be resilient and stay determined throughout any hardships that life will throw our way. We are now heading into a new chapter of life and we need to keep being persistent and relentless in the pursuit of our dreams and success. As Ray Burk says, “Goals live on the other side of obstacles and challenges.” Never make excuses and place blame. When we venture into the world, we have to be mindful and accountable for our own actions. As high school graduates, we have many more things to do and much more to achieve. We should never take tomorrow for granted, as shown by our current situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We need to take this diploma we are receiving today and look at it as a bridge we are taking into our futures. We should use the knowledge we have acquired throughout high school to our daily lives to progress ourselves towards our dreams. We will be remembered as the champions of ‘Senior Skip day’. As you look back upon today, you should always remember, you will forever be a ‘Rocket’ no matter where life takes you.”
As these seniors gave their last words, horns tooted, hands waved, and some were seen wiping tears from their eyes through the glass of their vehicles.
Nora Roberts quote reminds senior graduates, “If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.”
Craig County graduates, go after what you want, ask whatever questions you need to get all of your answers until your spirit is satisfied and step forward into the direction your heart wants to go. Remember, only you know you and what will make your life complete.