The future is now for more than 1,300 Columbia County students who graduated from high school Saturday at James Brown Arena, and for private school students whose commencement exercises were held at two area churches.
Greenbrier High School
Greenbrier started the day's commencement exercises when 440 seniors received their diplomas.
Valedictorian Rebecca Noblett talked to her peers about choices.
"We can always just take the easy way out, but we have the power to choose and do the right thing," she said.
Noblett told her classmates that they already had made one correct choice -- to graduate.
Superintendent Charles Nagle, presiding over his first graduation day ceremonies since he took the school system's top office in July, also had some advice for the graduating seniors.
"A goal without a plan is nothing but a wish," he said. "My advice to you is make a plan and set your goal."
After the ceremony, relieved and excited graduates gathered outside the arena with family and friends.
Graduating senior Carolyn Reed said she is looking forward to having more independence at Covenant College next year.
She said she would miss her friends, but as for high school, she said, "I'm just ready to finish."
Her classmate, Christopher Partridge, agreed.
"I'm glad it's over. That hard work paid off," he said.
He plans to play football at North Greenville University in South Carolina next year.
Lakeside High School
The second ceremony of the day belonged to Lakeside's graduating class of about 260.
The Class of 2008 selected English teacher Elaine Griswell and media specialist Bekki Matthews as its guest speakers.
"You are equipped to achieve the goals you have set for yourself," said Griswell.
Matthews, a 1992 Lakeside graduate, reiterated bits of wisdom that she had shared with the students throughout the school year.
"Only you can make yourself happy. Once you are there, you can invite somebody else along for the ride," she told the seniors one last time.
Valedictorian Wenlan "Mary" Ma told her classmates that graduation day was the culmination of their hard work.
"High school gave us not only knowledge and facts, but also opportunities to encourage us to take initiatives to be confident in ourselves," she said.
The day was one of mixed emotions for some graduating seniors.
"I'm ready to get out of high school, but I'm kind of nervous about leaving home," honors graduate Eric Fisher said before the ceremony.
He plans to major in chemistry at Georgia Southern University and hopes to one day go into pediatrics.
"I'm kind of nervous for the ceremony, but I'm really excited about going to college," Alexandria Cassagnol said on her way to the arena.
She said she is looking forward to making new friends and being away from home when she goes to Georgia Southern next year. But what will she miss most about high school?
Her friends and being at home.
Evans High School
Evans' ceremony granted diplomas to 347 graduating seniors.
Valedictorian Whitney Daly reminded her peers about the compassion and support that Evans High students had for each other and for their school, community and world.
"You will always be an Evans Knight," she told the graduates, "and you will have all the friendly qualities and successes that come with that."
After the ceremony, the graduates picked up their diplomas and met with friends and family members outside the arena to celebrate.
Alyx Shultz said she felt sad to graduate, but also proud of that achievement.
She was offered a soccer scholarship at Cumberland University in Tennessee.
"It's a huge sense of accomplishment," she said on her way to pick up her diploma. "It's surreal to think we're graduating."
Fellow graduate Lucia Reino echoed her friend's thoughts.
"It's surreal to think I won't be walking through those doors again," said Reino, who plans to attend the University of South Carolina Aiken.
Harlem High School
Harlem's 232 seniors finished the day's public school graduation ceremonies.
Many of the graduating seniors seemed excited to begin the next chapter in their lives.
"It makes me want to do a back flip," Michael Rivera said.
Stormy Hall, though, said she felt somewhat nervous before the ceremony began.
"I'm just looking forward to getting out of high school," said the graduate, who plans to study radiology at Augusta Technical College.
Valedictorian Dylan Sexton spoke to his classmates about the legacy Harlem High's class of 2008 would leave.
Crossing the stage, he noted, marks the completion of one goal.
"Wherever we go or whatever we do, the future is in our hands," he said. "Whether we succeed or fail in what we do is up to us. Our lives, full of opportunities, are before us."
Evans Christian Academy
Evans Christian Academy graduated 18 seniors during its commencement Saturday at In Focus Church in Evans.
Valedictorian Christopher Stratton told his classmates he's learned a lot at the school, but the most important lessons he learned there were friendship, hard work, love and dedication.
But an education is something to value. "Education is perhaps the only mundane wealth that cannot be robbed," Stratton said.
The graduates also heard an inspirational speech from the Rev. Brent Dowis, pastor of Crossbridge Baptist Church. The church will be the school's host for a transitional 2008-09 school year while a new campus is under construction in Grovetown.
Augusta Christian Schools
Augusta Christian Schools held their graduation exercises Saturday at West Acres Baptist Church, with 73 graduates receiving diplomas.
Zach Herzwurm delivered the valedictory address, and Helen Cave delivered the salutatory address.
News Editor Donnie Fetter and staff writer Valerie Rowell also contributed to this report.
For more graduation photos, go to spotted.augusta.com.
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