High school is but a memory for more than 1,300 Columbia County pupils who graduated Saturday at James Brown Arena.
Lakeside High School
Lakeside High School's 346 graduating seniors were the first to begin commencement ceremonies at 9 a.m.
The class of 2007 selected as their commencement speaker advance placement science teacher Bob Willis, who told the graduates their accomplishments show they know the meaning of perseverance, excellence, self-sacrifice and humility. Though greatness is expected, he advised the class to remain humble and enjoy life.
"Yes, you need to plan for your future, but take each day as it comes," he said.
Lakeside valedictorian Jian Huang told his peers to continue to strive for their goals in the face of new challenges.
"Only through challenges will we find new opportunities," he said.
Outside the arena after commencement, tears streaked down graduate Areaka Luke's face.
"Four years is a long time and going through four years of high school, it's overwhelming," said Luke, who plans to attend Georgia Southern University and become a pediatric nurse.
Evans High School
Before Evans High's commencement at 11:30 a.m., senior Kelly Segraves sought out her best friend, Lakeside graduate Drew Hall, for a hug and comforting words. Segraves would soon be a graduation speaker and needed calming reassurance before facing 336 fellow graduates and a crowded arena.
"He always knows how to calm me down," she said of Hall.
Segraves' commencement was different from that of her classmates. Superintendent Tommy Price did not hand her a diploma, as he did everyone else.
Instead, her father, Evans High Assistant Principal Chris Segraves, greeted her on stage with a diploma and a warm embrace.
Kelly said she was trying not to be overwhelmed with emotion.
"I'm trying to be happy, but I'm so close to my classmates, it makes it that much harder," said the graduate, who plans to major in pre-med at Augusta State University in the fall.
The bittersweet feeling of graduation wasn't lost on Price, who was conducting his final commencements as superintendent.
"It's both excitement and at the same time sadness knowing it's the last time you'll do this," said Price, who retires June 30.
Evans valedictorian Lauren Renee Middleton told her peers that high school was a time to learn about their unique talents that will help them leave their mark on the world.
"Let's make a difference in this world and leave our footprints on the hearts of those around us," she said.
Harlem High School
The first commencement of the afternoon, which began at 2 p.m., belonged to Harlem High's 231 graduates.
"Today is the best day of my life," said salutatorian Sarah Colgrove.
She said she hoped for even better days ahead, however.
Billy Spurlin, the valedictorian and senior class president, told his classmates to follow their dreams.
He recalled the Harlem commencement exercises four years ago when his brother received his high school diploma.
At that time, he said, he told his father he wanted to sit on the podium and give a speech when he graduated.
He knew he had a place on the stage when he became senior class president, but Spurlin still was not satisfied.
"My dream was to earn my way to the podium, so I kept working," he said.
Spurlin also said his father had promised to buy him a laptop if he got one of the coveted seats on the stage.
"Well, I got my laptop," he said.
Greenbrier High School
Greenbrier's 443 seniors closed out the day with their 4 p.m. commencement ceremony.
The graduates filed into the arena two by-two, and two boys gave each other an enthusiastic high five as they split up to sit on opposite rows.
Principal Margie Hamilton recognized Price's 36 years of service to the Columbia County school system, and the students and audience members gave the retiring superintendent a standing ovation.
Tiffany Adams, a co-salutatorian, told her fellow graduates that the knowledge they gained from their books helped them pass their classes.
"Life is the lesson we really learned," she said.
Valedictorian Katherine Croft told her classmates that perhaps many of their lives, including her own, were out of balance in high school.
"People who are truly successful have attained a balance between hard work and play," she said.
Croft finished her speech with one final piece of advice for her classmates.
"Rock on!" she said, pumping her fist in the air.
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