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Jim Blaylock
Many Harlem graduates wore blue and orange tassels in memory of classmate Johnny Hartman who died in a car wreck recently.

Columbia County graduates receive diplomas in Saturday ceremonies

Posted: May 19, 2012 - 11:28am  |  Updated: May 21, 2012 - 9:52am
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Larita Calhoun cheers as a family member walks across the stage during Harlem's graduation ceremony.  Jim Blaylock
Jim Blaylock
Larita Calhoun cheers as a family member walks across the stage during Harlem's graduation ceremony.

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AUGUSTA CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS

A spiritual commencement ceremony Saturday for graduates at Augusta Christian Schools marked the end of high school for 72 students.

“Change happens,” said Augusta Christian Choral Director Chris Norris in his commencement address. “Life happens.

“How you handle it makes us the men and women we become. It is what it is.”

The ceremony was held at West Acres Baptist Church in Evans. Hundreds of friends and family filled the church pews.

Norris, also music minister at West Acres, spoke to the 72 seniors about putting their lives in God’s hands as they move forward to their futures.

Instead of giving a traditional speech to her fellow classmates, valedictorian Amaura Brandt opted to play the violin. She played the hymn "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" and was accompanied by her brother on the piano.

Class Vice-president Danielle Mulherin said she is both excited and reluctant to start college at Kennesaw State University, where she plans to get a degree in nursing.

“It’s just kind of sad that we have to leave everything to go to college,” she said, quickly adding that she can’t wait to make new friendships.

Jabari Odom, who played football at the school, said he felt the day was bittersweet.

“It’s kind of time for the next chapter,” said Odom, who will be pursuing a career in nursing at Mercer University.

EVANS HIGH SCHOOL

From start to finish, the 350 seniors at Evans High School had a rocking good time during graduation at James Brown Arena on Saturday.

And they had they own unique way of doing things, such as turning rings around before the turning of the tassels and throwing their caps into the air.

But first came the official ceremony.
Valedictorian Helen Xiang put her stamp on the proceedings. She thanked teachers for helping her learn and then turned her attention to her classmates.

“May you go on to influence others the way you have influenced me,” Xiang said. “Appreciate the finer things of life. Our time on this planet is limited and precious. Assess what you can and cannot do. I hope we change it for the better.”

Afterward, graduate Wade Kehoe was ready to see what is next.
“I feel great, absolutely fantastic,” said Kehoe. “The best part is being across the finish line and knowing we have a whole other chapter to write.”

GROVETOWN HIGH SCHOOL

Sisters ruled the day at Grovetown High School’s graduation at James Brown Arena on Saturday.
The valedictorian and salutatorian representing the third graduating class, consisting of 325 seniors, were twins Emily and Erin Chizmar, respectively.

In their addresses, the pair quoted such noted notables as Leo Tolstoy, Eleanor Roosevelt and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both talked of change and the journey they and the rest of their classmates were about to embark upon.

Erin Chizmar also spoke about faith and what it can accomplish.
”I believe in humanity and I believe in love,” she said. “I believe through love we can change the world.”
Emily Chizmar liked what had been created through her years at the school and those who had been a part of it.
“The best thing about high school is the memories,” she said. “Every person, every moment, every day. They combine to create the experience of high school.”

Before the ceremony, nerves were at a high. After triumphantly walking across the stage and receiving their diplomas, however, the feelings had changed to those of relief.

"It’s a special day,” said Jonathan Ritter, who intends to enlist in the U.S. Army. “It’s a day out of high school and time to move on with life.”

EVANS CHRISTIAN ACADEMY

Evans Christian Academy’s 12 seniors transformed into graduates Saturday, as each crossed the stage to receive their diplomas at Crossbridge Baptist Church in Augusta.

As the graduates lined up before the processional, Kayla Ward, who led the line, said, “I’m really nervous.”

She was worried about her welcoming speech, but flew through it flawlessly.

“It’s the big day,” Principal Kathryn Nave said, preparing to hand out diplomas. “We’re all excited.”

Valedictorian Kevin Puha reflected on his three years at ECA and encouraged his classmates to never stop the pursuit of learning.

“With wisdom comes great joy,” he said. “I say this from first-hand experience. The blessing of a free mind is perhaps one of the most valuable gifts people ever receive, so don’t waste it.”

Teacher Alex McClain, the commencement speaker, gave more practical wisdom in the effort to help graduates succeed.

“If you’re going to be as grown up as you think you are, then you have to deal with whatever life throws at you,” McClain said. “Life doesn’t give you a second chance. ... Let’s all try to live appropriately. Let’s pray. Let’s be kind. Let’s remember what’s good about each day.”

 LAKESIDE HIGH SCHOOL

Lakeside High School graduate Katherine Bollag noted during her valedictory speech Saturday that her “Internet generation” has witnessed an invasion of Iraq, the creation of Facebook, the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia, NASA sending a rover to Mars, the death of Michael Jackson and the first black American ever elected to the presidency of the U.S.
“In a few short decades, it will be our generation making the news,” Bollag said to her more than 330 classmates graduating high school during a commencement ceremony at the James Brown Arena. “I know the future is in good hands with the 2012 class of Lakeside High School.”
But Lakeside High Salutatorian noted in his address that it will be up to his classmates whether the affect they have on society is positive or negative.
“Most of all, you must believe in yourself,” Patel said. “Right now, you are nothing. It’s what you do in this next chapter of your life that defines you.”
To matter, Patel said, someone must “chase dreams” and “chase perfection.”
“Go out and show the world you can be the best,” he challenged the graduates.
Graduate Dylan Arnold said he hopes to meet that challenge,
“I’m excited and a little scared,” said the future Augusta Technical Institute student. “But that’s life. It comes and you just have to deal with it.”

HARLEM HIGH SCHOOL

Harlem High School seniors eschewed the traditional red and black tassels Saturday to turn those colored orange and blue, and mark themselves as graduates.

The orange and blue signified the color of the Florida Gators, the favorite college football team of Jonathan Hartman, who died May 8 in a single-vehicle wreck in Appling.Though not present at the James Brown Arena for the commencement ceremonies, Hartman’s presence still was felt thanks to his classmates.

The chair Hartman, 18, would have occupied during graduation remained empty except for an orange and blue ribbon tied to it and later given to his family, which included Kiokee Baptist Church pastor Steve Hartman.
As new graduates left the arena floor, each received a Holy Bible donated by Kiokee Baptist with “In loving memory of Jonathan Hartman” inscribed in the front.
In her valedictory speech, Falon Sellers recognized Hartman’s absence, saying she and her classmates were saddened.
Still, Sellers said, graduation is a time for saying goodbye while celebrating the future.
“We’re each going in different directions, but we’ll always have Harlem,” she said.
Graduate Marlee Garner, 17, also noted the bittersweet nature of the service.
“We’re so much like a family and now we’re going our separate ways,” Garner said. “You could probably see us on stage making faces at each other to keep from crying.”

GREENBRIER HIGH SCHOOL

There were plenty of smiles, a few tears and a lot of hugs as Greenbrier High School seniors took their first steps into the world as adults Saturday.

The 514 graduates received their diplomas at James Brown Arena.

Valedictorian Jeremy Lee described the moment as “your championship moment,” the culmination of four years of hard work.

“We have clearly demonstrated that the potential to achieve lies within all of us,” he said.

Superintendent Charles Nagle advised the class to make plans for their futures and to set goals for themselves.

“Today is the first day of your future,” he told them. “The decisions you make today will determine how you will live the rest of your life.”

Cassandra Robinson and Kayla Berns have already taken his advice.

Berns, the class president, will play volleyball for Armstrong State University in the fall. While she’s considering becoming a pharmacist, she knows she wants to continue playing volleyball.

“I’m really excited to play at Armstrong,” she said.

Robinson, the class secretary, will attend Augusta State University in the fall. While at Greenbrier, she earned her nursing assistant certification and plans to become a nurse.

Following the ceremony, both said they felt very happy and a little relieved to be done with high school, but they were excited to begin their futures.

“I’m jittery, but mostly happy,” Robinson said.

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