Just shy of 1,000 students marched into commencement ceremonies for nine local schools and received their diplomas, the culmination of more than a decade’s work for the Class of 2012.
As the graduates formed a red line in full regalia to march down into Weaver’s Bill Bryan Stadium, Haley Wright said what was going on around her didn’t feel real.
“It feels like it’s totally a fairy tale,” she said.
Beside her, Dontavius Lindsey said he was beyond excited about becoming an alumnus of Weaver High School. “I couldn’t even sleep last night,” he said. “I don’t think it will hit me until I’m a freshman in college.”
While the gymnasium was abuzz with seniors eager to file out and into adulthood, those who couldn’t be with them were also present on their minds. The class has lost two classmates, Cassie McKala Wine and Michael Cody Watson.
“We are strong. The loss of our two classmates Cassie and Cody have shown us this,” said class historian Kindall Brown. “We came together as a family to grieve together, to heal together. We formed a bond stronger than many others.”
Weaver High School awarded posthumous diplomas to the parents of Wine and Watson. “It seems like giving you a diploma is not really a lot,” school counselor Dawn Bussey-Clark said during the presentation, “but we’re honored to have shared Cody with you.”
At Walter Wellborn High School, a similar sentiment filled the stadium as the Class of 2012 remembered Aaron “Tootie” Harris, whose family also received a diploma on his behalf.
Wellborn valedictorian Derek Screws paid tribute to his classmate.
“Losing Tootie is the hardest thing any of us has ever had to endure,” he said. “He was the greatest person I’ve ever met…Tootie made us a family. We all felt the pain and mourned together after he went to be with the Lord. He made a group of 79 seniors become one unit.”
The death of his classmate gave Screws a realistic perspective.
“I know that we all feel invincible, but this isn’t the case,” he told his classmates. “The cold truth is that we’re not promised tomorrow.” He challenged his class to follow YOLO—you only live once.
“Because you only live once, live for the things that matter,” he said, “strive to make an impression on the world.”
Despite the tinge of tragedy to some of the evening’s proceedings, the members of the Class of 2012 were ecstatic to have that coveted piece of paper in hand.
“It felt amazing. I loved it,” Bianca Lomax said of the moment she was awarded her diploma. As she filed out of Oxford High School’s Lamar Field after the ceremony, Lomax described the mixed feelings she had about moving on.
“I’m ready to start my life as a college student,” she said. “I’m proud of my entire class, and I’m sort of sad, but at the same time, I’m really happy to move on to the next stage of my life.”
Lomax’s mother, Darlene, said that for her, the evening was surreal. ”You always look at your children as when they’re little, and then to see them walk across that stage as an adult, leaving behind one of the most important parts of their life, it can be overwhelming,” she said. “It’s wonderful and it’s sad.”
But Wellborn class historian Taylor Champion had some advice for parents on this emotional night.
“Parents, I know it’s hard watching your babies grow up, but you have to let us go and trust that you will continue to be a part of our lives,” she said.
For brand-new Oxford alumna Areyauna Mathews, the night was all about the feeling of transition. “I feel—different. I really can’t explain it,” she said. “It feels like something new is starting.”
Mathews said she could feel the change in herself, but also in the air at Lamar Field. The most exciting moment of the night for her was stepping out of the front doors of Oxford High School.
“As soon as we walked out the door, it hit us,” she said. “It’s graduation, it’s time.”