HARRISONBURG — Monday night, 177 Stuarts Draft High School seniors celebrated the end of their high school careers, marking the school’s 49th commencement during a graduation ceremony at Eastern Mennonite University.
Before the happy Cougars crossed the gym to grab their diplomas, commencement speaker Del. Ronnie Campbell urged the Class of 2019 to “fly with the eagles.”
Campbell, a Stuarts Draft graduate and former Rockbridge County School Board member, represents the 24th House District, which includes parts of Augusta and Amherst counties, Lexington and Buena Vista.
He asked the graduates to think of everyone in the audience as chickens.
“There’s also a few turkeys … they strut around ... they feel they are dominant,” Campbell said. “But a turkey doesn’t realize they will never be anything other than a turkey.”
Campbell, saying that “the only thing that will hold you back is yourself,” told the graduating seniors not to “allow yourself to compromise unless you are comfortable being a chicken or a turkey.”
Hanging out with eagles who soar high, he said, “will make things happen.”
SDHS Principal Nick Nycum, in his opening remarks, first gave recognition to graduates who will be entering military service and to veterans in the audience.
“It is not the end, in fact it is only the beginning,” Nycum told the soon-to-be graduates. “You are ready to join the world of adulthood.”
Noting how quickly time passes, Nycum asked the senior class to reflect on their last four years, from the start of their freshman year of high school.
“I’m sure you feel like it is just yesterday,” he said. “You have made it to this day. … Cherish this moment … strive to do your best in all you do.”
Valedictorian Hannah Grace Chatterton told her classmates to treasure the friendships made and experiences shared during high school.
Chatterton noted that although you may come up short of achieving your highest goals there are many ways of measuring success through the smaller milestones reached along the way.
“We have worked so hard to accomplish so much but we’re not finished yet,” she said.
Salutatorian Jonathan Matthew Henriques related how two severe injuries, starting with hip surgery four years ago and a torn ACL this year, derailed his dream of playing high school soccer. Although initially devastated when he realized he wouldn’t play soccer again for his team, he ended up turning his energy to the study of mathematics.
Adaptive perseverance, Henriques said, is the key. He could say just work hard and everything is going to turn out OK, “but that’s just not true. Life is more complicated than that.”
He now plans to attend James Madison University and pursue a double major in math and science.
“Life throws you curveballs,” he said. “There’s a high probability life is not going to work out as you planned.”
“I learned when one door closes another opens.”