Cowbells clanged and air horns blew inside the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center on Saturday as crowds celebrated the approximately 1,400 Columbia County graduates who received their high-school diplomas.
Evans High School
Evans High School's 336 graduates started the day with commencement ceremonies beginning at 9 a.m.
"I don't know what our lives will be like five or 10 years from now," said 2006 Evans High Class President Paige Michelle Hamilton. "But I do know that right now, this is our time and I am excited."
Valedictorian Jane Chong Yoon reminded her classmates that they spent about 5,400 hours of their lives roaming the hallways of Evans High seeking out their next class.
In that time, she said, it was the teachers and friends who made lasting impressions and she doubts anyone will even remember their grades or test scores.
"We might ... remember a pep rally that wasn't cut short due to 'unacceptable behavior,'" Yoon quipped.
Graduate Anne Marie Reimsnider echoed Yoon's comments after the service.
"I'm happy to move on, but I'm also sad to leave everybody," she said.
Harlem High School
Many of Harlem High's 185 seniors repeated the rhythm of clapping and then pausing over and over Saturday as they psyched themselves up for their commencement ceremonies at 11:30 a.m.
Unlike Evans speakers, Harlem salutatorian Jessica Price focused less on the past and more on the future in her address to her classmates.
"Success is the feeling you get when you can sit back and say, 'I did that,'" she said. "Now we must go and show the world we can make a difference."
Still, graduate Brooke LeDoux, one-half of five sets of twins getting diplomas at Harlem's graduation, couldn't help but focus on the past a little.
"It's sad," she said. "There are so many people I'm going to miss."
Greenbrier High School
The 2 p.m. ceremony for Greenbrier High might have been a little sweeter for Jessica Beeson than for the rest of the 387 graduating seniors.
Beeson, from Appling, turned 19 Saturday.
"I get the coolest thing ever for my birthday. I get my high school diploma," she said.
The day itself, however, was bittersweet for Beeson, because two of her closest friends were moving on to join the Navy and go to college, the future Augusta Technical College student said.
Kandice Harris, 18, who will be moving on to Georgia Tech on June 19 to begin her biology degree, reflected on graduation day finally arriving.
"At first, it didn't seem real," she said. "But now that graduation has taken place, it solidifies that we're moving on to a new phase in life."
In her speech before a packed civic center, Greenbrier High salutatorian Nicole Lamb, summed up the sentiments of many of her peers who spoke of missing the familiarity of home and their parents.
"Even though we talk excitedly about getting out from under their (our parents) thumbs, we'll miss them secretly," she said.
The honorees receiving the two loudest ovations of the 388 graduates were Shadrick Marquiee Harris and Reginald Anthony Rice, III.
As they walked across the stage, shaking the hands of and embracing school administrators, each gave the crowd a brief celebratory dance before taking their diplomas from Superintendent Tommy Price.
Rice, 18, of Grovetown, a former standout Greenbrier High football player, pleaded guilty in juvenile court March 6 to felony statutory rape as part of a negotiated plea agreement and was sentenced to 24 months on probation, was mandated to attend sex education courses and perform 56 hours of community service.
Harris, also 18, from Appling, admitted March 6 to misdemeanor sexual battery as part of the negotiated plea agreement in juvenile court and was sentenced to 12 months' probation plus 48 hours community service and a sex education course.
The charges stemmed from a Sept. 17-18 incident with two 14-year-old girls, a 15-year-old girl and a 16-year-old boy in a "barnlike structure" behind the home of one of the teens. All three girls were charged with fornication, and a 16-year-old boy was charged with having sex with one of the girls.
Lakeside High School
Last, but not least, at 4:30 p.m., Lakeside High's 317 seniors entered the civic center as students and departed 90 minutes later as alumni.
Principal Jeff Carney took a moment to recognize one special member of the 2006 graduating class.
James Francis Munaco, a Louisiana native and Hurricane Katrina evacuee, crossed the stage to a standing ovation. Carney said Munaco, who was at the school for only half a year, received a Georgia high school diploma after completing the state mandated graduation exams in math, science, language arts, social studies and writing.
Class salutatorian Danielle Yee Chang told her peers that memories fade, to write down the thoughts that are so important in that moment, or else the things that make us "cry, laugh, cheer and smile will be lost to the forgotten pages of time."
Valedictorian Joy Zhang told her classmates to seek happiness in life.
"Happiness is a huge motivating factor for everything we do," she said. "It seems like happiness is contagious and I hope all of you catch it."
Ravi Jha, who plans on attending the Georgia Institute of Technology in the fall, said he was excited to be moving on to the next chapter in his life though his thoughts were still clinging to his days in high school.
"It's hard to believe high school is over now," he said.
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