Photo by Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
CONYERS -- Emotions ran high Saturday morning as students, parents, friends, teachers and school administrators filled every seat in the sanctuary at Church In The Now in preparation for the Newton High School Class of 2011 graduation.
The excitement of the crowd was dampened only by the fact the bathrooms were not working at the church. The announcement by teacher Nilesh Patel 10 minutes before the ceremony began that the restrooms were now operational was met with applause and sighs of relief.
Senior Class President Adriana Mendes took to the microphone after the more than 400 students filed into the sanctuary. She told her graduating class, "today we officially enter adulthood." Mendes quoted from I Corinthians 13:11, which states, "When I was a child I spoke like a child, I thought like a child and reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up my childish ways."
Brody Ingram, NHS valedictorian, likewise continued with a religious overtone in his speech, first giving thanks to "Jesus Christ, for all he's done for me," and then encouraging his peers to "shine on others so they can see the light."
Salutatorian Brian Carpenter took a more humorous approach in his address to his fellow graduates.
"Initially, I was honored to be given this recognition ... honored to be given one additional homework assignment, to have to give a speech before 2,000 people and to have that speech published in the local newspaper for millions to see," he said. "Like I said, initially I was excited, but now I'm terrified."
Carpenter then poked fun at standard graduation speeches with "cheesy quotes" and cliches, and proceeded to put his own twist on the traditional template, revisiting memories ("We'll never forget the flimsy, metal walls ... and prison bars on the bathroom"); remembering those who helped them throughout their four years of high school ("I want to thank my parents for driving me to school every day when I missed the bus"); and then turning to the next steps ("Somewhere down the road, when we look back, we will miss this place ... like the smell of old carpet when we walked into (a) classroom").
"High school is like a lollipop," he said. "It's sweet on the outside, takes forever to finish and it sucks until it's gone."
But even through the humor, Carpenter wove in relevant points, giving thanks to God and all his friends and reminding his peers that what happens next in their lives is "completely up to us."
He closed with a quote from Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, who said, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened."
NHS Principal Craig Lockhart then gave several awards to outstanding seniors, including to Jamal Green, who was awarded the AJC Cup. Three students were honored for perfect attendance since kindergarten: Candace Howard and twin sisters Briana and Brittany Williams.
And then came the point of the day: passing out the diplomas. The excitement in the room escalated to a steady pitch of cheers and shout-outs as each name was called, culminating with applause and whistles as graduates hugged and tossed their hats in the air amid flashing cameras, ready to begin the next chapter in their lives.