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BAILEY — Two hundred seventy students began the next phase of their lives after crossing the stage to receive diplomas Saturday morning at Southern Nash High School.
The Firebirds’ 50th commencement ceremony was filled with moments of the tenacity, compassion and strength of character that drew the graduates together as a class.
In what many family and friends in attendance described as the most inspirational part of the ceremony, senior class president Emma Bailey, who suffered paralysis in a car crash on May 25 and has been recovering at WakeMed Health in Raleigh, received her diploma while being wheeled in on a stretcher wearing her cap and gown to her classmates’ cheers and applause.
Class valedictorian Marco Luna said Bailey is a “kind-hearted and genuine soul, loved by many. She is not letting this setback define her, nor is she losing hope.”
As the graduates exited the stage, many paused to offer small gestures of love and support to Bailey, who was positioned by the steps.
“What stood out to me the most was the compassion and benevolence our class has displayed,” said class salutatorian Cory Joyner. “In the wake of tragic events, we were always quick to respond with our utmost support. It was in those times we were able to help others, grow closer as a community and a family.”
In his reflections, Joyner invited the students to look back on their educational journey thus far. From Silly Bandz during social studies and the simplicity of elementary school to the awkwardness and first attempts at self-expression of middle school, Joyner asserted those times shaped who the graduates became and readied them for high school and the four years that quickly passed.
“Whenever someone would tell us, ‘This is your last pep rally,’ or ‘This is your last homecoming game,’ it felt like it had all gone by way too quickly,” Joyner said.
Closing the chapter of their high school careers was bittersweet, but valedictorian Marco Solana Luna gave advice as the graduates began the next stage of their lives.
“This is the moment we have all been waiting for after watching everyone from ‘High School Musical’ graduate,” said Solana Luna.
Solana Luna challenged graduates not to complain about things they are not willing to change and rise to the occasion to make a positive impact on the world.
“Through perseverance, we established the faith, strength and willpower to make it through anything,” Solana Luna said. “If there is anything we have learned from being here for four years, it is to never settle for less and never stop trying until we have reached our goal.”
Principal Hugh Scott provided opening remakes and state Sen. Rick Horner, R-Nash, returned to his alma mater to shake graduating seniors’ hands. Horner had previously presided over commencement ceremonies as a Nash-Rocky Mount Board of Education member.
“The class of 2018 is filled with great potential and destined for greatness,” Solana Luna said. “You are capable of moving mountains, because you are Firebirds, and Firebirds keep moving forward.”