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Swain County High graduates 119 in 2019

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The  gloomy weather Saturday morning stood in contrast to the celebration being held inside the Swain County High School (SCHS) gym as the school ushered the class of 2019 into a new chapter of their lives during its commencement exercises.

The graduation ceremony was held in the SCHS gym due to inclement weather, making it the first time the school has had to hold graduation indoors since 2003. Many friends and family members of the graduates filled the gym. Because of the limited space, others gathered next door in the Swain Arts Center to watch a live stream of the ceremony.

After the candidates for graduation filed into the gym and the National Anthem was played, co-salutatorian Jack Stuckey led attendees in a prayer of thanks to God, which included an expression of gratitude for past challenges and success, the community present that morning, the “passion and desire within the spirit of every Maroon Devil here,” and “the hope and possibilities of the future.”

SCHS Principal Sonya Blankenship welcomed those in attendance and thanked many who helped make the graduation ceremony possible. 

“Seated in front of me are 119 outstanding graduates,” Blankenship said. “Seated around us are family members and the caregivers of a wonderful group of young adults.”

She continued, “For all of you, this journey has brought many different emotions, as these children have passed through all of the different stages, some probably a little easier than others. But the important thing is, you made it.”

Blankenship thanked the supporters of the graduating class and prompted the members of the class of 2019 to find their loved ones in the stands and show them their appreciation with a round of applause.

Co-salutatorian Jackson Cooper delivered the first address, with a focus on the past. A Cherokee tribal member, Cooper greeted those present first in Cherokee, then in English.

Cooper noted that for most of the graduating class, their journeys had begun at either East or West elementary schools. And then came middle school.

“In sixth-grade, we didn’t realize it, but we were halfway there,” said Cooper.

He cited their time at Swain Middle as “loud and aggressive,” as he compared the school to a blender, “mixing together students from different schools and backgrounds.”

By the time the class had reached its freshman year, he said the student body had shrunk and grown, and endured change.

“When the time to move to high school arrived, we were ready,” said Cooper. “We moved forward, becoming elite at our sports, our clubs and our classes.”

Said Cooper, “For our class motto we chose, ‘It ain’t much, but it’s honest work,’ partially but not primarily because it’s funny. But it could be interpreted as much more.

“You see, we’re not a huge class; we’re not children of millionaires or famous individuals. Little to nothing in this world has been handed to us. But we know who we are. We’re successful but we don’t flaunt it. We have worked hard to get here, and made quite a few triumphs on the way.”

He later added that the class motto “represents a class that put in honest work.”

He continued, “Despite our size, background and disability, we succeeded. We created a legacy that will stand here forever.”

Valedictorian Jessie Richards focused her speech on the future of her class. 

“While it is somewhat intimidating, I have full confidence that the members of this class are prepared to thrive and flourish in whatever their post-high school endeavors may include,” declared Richards. “We have received throughout our time in this school system a sound and diverse education.”

She cited a recent study that named Swain County Schools as “receiving the lowest amount of funding per student of any public school system in the entire state of North Carolina.”

She continued, “Statistics such as these do not instill confidence in our institution. However, I say with the utmost confidence, and maybe even certainty, that this school has provided me with an amazing education, thanks to the incredible teachers sitting before us. Every single person in this gym has benefitted from and will continue to use the knowledge and insights provided by these educators.”

Richards acknowledged that the Class of 2019 would be heading down a variety of paths after graduation, via careers, college and the military.

“Something I have learned over the years at Swain is that all ways of making an honest living should be respected. This became evident as I witnessed the various social and economic situations of my peers. Everyone here comes from a unique and distinct background, rife with their own struggles and triumphs.”

However, Richards noted that the students had in common their shared school experience.

“Having this educational experience with a class such as this has prepared us for the future because what we have experienced teaches empathy,” Richards said.

She said empathy was “overlooked and undervalued” in society, and encouraged the students to incorporate the empathy they had experienced in Swain County Schools into their careers and actions. By doing so, she said, the class would help shape an “understanding and cohesive world.”

Prior to the presentation of diplomas, SCHS Assistant Principal Michael Turner recognized some of the graduating seniors’ achievements. He also shared the future plans of the 119 graduating seniors, stating that four would be joining the military, 19 planned to enter the workforce, 54 would be attending two-year colleges, 35 would attend a four-year institutions, and seven were undecided.

In addition to the remarks, the graduation ceremony featured musical offerings by the SCHS band and vocal ensemble.

At the conclusion of the commencement exercises, the graduates walked through the Swain Arts Center so that those watching the live stream would have the opportunity to see them in person.   

Smoky Mountain Times

Mailing Address:
PO Box 730
1 River Street
Bryson City, NC 28713 
Phone: 828-488-2189
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