FHS Class of ’22 graduates urged to continue their life’s journey

Published 8:16 pm Saturday, June 18, 2022

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The event that 69 Franklin City Public School students had been working toward since their education began many years ago finally arrived on Friday, June 3. That’s when the Franklin High School Class of 2022 could see their diplomas before them. There was but one more challenge – to patiently sit, wait and listen as select classmates saluted them – and then bid farewell to this time in their lives.

In her welcome address, Senior Class President LaNiyah K. Hunter gave special thanks to FHS Principal Travis Felts. Of him and his dedication to the school she said, “I could write a book, but his sincerity speaks for itself. Today is the day we have all anticipated for as long as we can remember,” said Hunter. “We’ve made it in spite of all the odds we have faced in our four years,” noting particularly how the COVID-19 pandemic created obstacles such as virtual learning. But, she added, “It has brought so much joy to my heart that we got to spend our senior year together despite the odds.”

This ceremony of graduation is not an end goal in itself,” said Hunter, but is instead “a part of the larger journey of life.”

Giving the senior address were Jaylon R. Santiful and Mesha Renee F. Bullock. Santiful said he wants to inspire each and every one of his classmates to strive hard after high school. “Our high school years are over, but we still have more to go through. We now have become adults … Life is a game you have to play to survive,” he said. “No one’s going to help you like they used to in school. So now as life moves on with or without you, I inspire you, do not fall down. Do not get down to your knees and cry. We all have to fight through somewhere. Take every stride with pride. The opportunity is there to get it.”

Bullock said, “We finally made it! We did it, y’all! As we got ready today, we all itched with the excitement of graduation. Our blood, sweat and tears have been put into these last four years. We’ve worked hard to get here. The Class of 2022 is nothing short of astonishing. We’re all different and unique. We will not allow our environment to bend and break us, instead we will bend and break it. We won’t lay down and accept our fate. We will make our fate.”

AaKayla J. Bynum-English, the Salutatorian, also noted that the class has arrived in spite of so many hurdles. “A high school diploma is a wonderful tool that unlocks many doors of opportunity,” she said.

“Graduating is not an end goal, but a part of a larger goal in itself. As we move on in our lives, let us approach each new challenge to move on with confidence.”

Danica R. Blankenship, the Valedictorian, said that graduating is bittersweet. There’s the excitement of finally being able to leave the walls of the secondary school, while at the same time it’s “slightly nerve-wracking because our future really begins.”

She noted that some will leave their parents’ home not knowing exactly what happens next. But assured them it will be for bigger and better things. “We will still keep in touch and we will still continue to love you. Parents, we are going to need you now more than before.”

Blankenship continued, “We have finished high school because of our ability and ambition. We have finished our first but not last major accomplishment within our life’s journey. Now it is time for us to set apart and create the future we desire.”

Following those heartfelt words, Mr. Kristopher Gillgren, FHS Assistant Principal, then named the honor graduates. Ms. Ale Massenburg, FHS Lead School Counselor, next announced the seniors’ scholarships and awards. Dr. Corey McCray, President of Camp Community College and Mr. Terry Eusebio, Coordinator of Dual Enrollment for Tidewater Community College, each acknowledged the students who earned college degrees before getting their high school diplomas.

Mrs. Amy Phillips, Chairwoman of the FCPS School Board, said she wondered what to say to the seniors. “Then it hit me,” said the FHS alumna, “Let me give you the advice I wished I had been given when I sat in the very spot you are sitting now. I can still see that 17-year-old girl scared about what came next, suddenly feeling very small in very big world, and not confident about finding in my ability to my place in it.”

She was ready to give up and repeat her senior year if possible. But her mother said that she’s still going to graduate. “So, here is my advice to you: “Know your worth. Make connections and know who you can trust. Don’t be afraid to do the hard work. Be patient. Learn something new every single day. Don’t compared yourself to others. Treat others like you want to be treated. Let me repeat that: Treat others like you want to be treated. Do not let others hold you back. Finally, it’s OK to not be OK. Take the mental break you need to re-set.”

Phillips continued, “These [nuggets of wisdom] have served me well and brought me to where I am now. Apply these in your life and your goals, I know you will succeed at everything you do. So, on behalf of the Franklin School Board, congratulations and we look forward to all the amazing things your futures hold.”

Dr. Tamara Sterling, Superintendent, said, “ You are Franklin strong! And that means you are prepared to handle anything. You have learned throughout your educational journey that tomorrow always comes, and though some days are brighter than others, you are a survivor. You know what it means to persevere. You know how to succeed when the odds are against you. You are trailblazers, and I am so proud that you have walked the halls of FHS, and left a legacy of excellence for others to follow.

“These are some words I want you to share with you and never forget: Live every moment of your life the way you want to live, not the way somebody tells you or expects you to live. Dance to your own beat and make your own music to sing. You are unique, special and amazing individuals that have graced our presence with your greatness. This one’s for you, Class of ’22!”

Seniors were then called to the podium to receive their well-earned diplomas. Afterward, Principal Felts urged them to thank those who have been heroes in their lives – be they a parent, grandparent, teacher, coach, sibling or someone else. “Just as those people were heroes to you, you now have the responsibility to be a hero in someone else’s life. Be a person that someone can depend on. It is more important to be a good friend, brother, sister, son, daughter, husband, wife, father or mother than it is to receive multiple degrees, impressive job titles or social status.

“My advice to you tonight is to continue your education. Experience all that life has to offer and be a hero to other people in big and small ways.”

Felts ordered the seniors to rise and turn their tassels, and that by his authority invested in him, he pronounced them as graduates of Franklin High School. In jubilation, the seniors threw their caps in the air, and walked out to begin their new lives.