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Newton High School graduation filled with laughter, cheers | PHOTOS

Newton High School Salutatorian Vitaliy Semenikhin takes a “selfie” prior to his remarks, capturing the light-hearted mood of the commencement exercises Saturday morning. Semenikhin told fellow classmates to remember their roots and the friends they made in high school. NHS graduated more than 350 seniors in ceremonies at Springfield Baptist Church. (Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith)

Newton High School Salutatorian Vitaliy Semenikhin takes a “selfie” prior to his remarks, capturing the light-hearted mood of the commencement exercises Saturday morning. Semenikhin told fellow classmates to remember their roots and the friends they made in high school. NHS graduated more than 350 seniors in ceremonies at Springfield Baptist Church. (Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith)

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Proud graduates, left to right, Amari Davis, Kelita Cox, Ifeoma Egbulem and Taylor Morehead stand together outside Springfield Baptist Church following graduation. The white gown denotes an honor graduate. (Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith)

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ShaCayne Jackson displays his diploma, the prize that all graduates were working to receive. (Staff Photo: SueAnn Kuhn-Smith)

COVINGTON — From the moment the church doors opened, the excitement and good cheer in the room for the 2014 Newton High School graduates was contagious.

As the nearly 400 students filed into the sanctuary at Springfield Baptist Church Saturday morning to take their seats during the graduation ceremony, the cheers from the crowd rose, climbing to a crescendo as the band played “Pomp and Circumstance” for the processional.

Once the graduates took their seats, Student Body President Bradford Porter congratulated his fellow students telling them, “we hoped, wished and prayed for this day.” But, he said, “The race is not finished as the true game has just begun.”

Principal John Ellenberg, who was tapped for the job after the abrupt resignation of Eclan David earlier in the year, praised the students and told them how much he appreciated being their principal and that he was proud of their accomplishments, particularly the more than $9 million in scholarships accepted by graduating seniors.

The light-hearted mood of the graduation was exemplified in the speech given by Salutatorian Vitaliy Semenikhin, who paused before giving his speech to turn around to the overhead projection screen to take a “selfie” with his cell phone.

While his speech was at times self-deprecating — “What does ‘salutatorian’ mean? It means you’re second best, and if you’re not first, you’re the last” — Semenikhin also encouraged his fellow graduates to remember their roots and the friends they’ve made during high school.

“But this is only a beginning,” he said. “High school really means very little. The next few years will really determine who you are. … We’ve achieved so much, but let’s not stop here. Don’t let me catch you slipping and working at McDonald’s!”

Richelle St. Louis was Newton High’s valedictorian, and she followed Semenikhin’s speech with one a little more traditional.

“I was told that as valedictorian I have to be more serious,” she said, adding that she did wish she had thought to bring her cell phone to the stage.

“I guess Vitaliy is smarter than me,” St. Louis quipped.

St. Louis said that Newton High will always be special to her because, as a member of a military family that moved around a lot, she had been at Newton High School the longest.

She said when she first arrived, she was fearful and nervous and didn’t know many people.

“High school became a place where I made new friends, had many laughs and shed many tears,” St. Louis said.

She added that the class of 2014 has overcome many obstacles, including having four different principals and moving to a new building.

“We have migrated to a new and beautiful facility where we will make history as the first graduating class of the new Newton High School,” she said. “We, the class of 2014, are composed of thinkers, doers, and dreamers. We will be the generation that changes the ways of the world.”