Graduation is a time both for reflection on the past and for those first long and serious looks into the future. It can mean fond reminiscing and tearful farewells, but it also means giant, whopping howls of joy.
Macon County has five schools graduating seniors this year: Franklin High School, Highlands School, Nantahala School, Union Academy and Macon Early College. This month, all around the county, whether they are college-bound, considering military service, or looking to jump into the workforce as soon as possible, graduating seniors from the Class of 2011 have been donning their caps and gowns and saying goodbye to teachers and childhood chums as they prepare to embark on the journey of the rest of their lives. And though the country is in the midst of a recession, and while the future may look precarious for some, this is surely a time for optimism, rather than cynicism.
“Cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or be disappointed in us,” said television personality Stephen Colbert in a commencement address he delivered several years ago. “Cynics always say no ... for as long as you have the strength to, say yes.”
Macon County students, seem to instinctively know this. Maybe it’s something in our clean mountain air that has led to the clarity of purpose for the Class of 2011.
“They have shown amazing leadership and strength of character in a multitude of endeavors,” said Franklin High School guidance counselor Kathy Breedlove at the school’s recent scholarship awards ceremony. “I have told them that I fully anticipate extraordinary contributions to our world from their unique gifts and talents.”
Macon County schools superintendent Dr. Dan Brigman agrees. “We are seeing another outstanding cohort of students depart our public school system for colleges careers, military and workforce opportunities,” Brigman said. “We wish each of them the best as they open a new chapter in their lives and are proud of their tremendous accomplishments as the Class of 2011.”
Besides that mountain air, Brigman says that the success of the school system — and of the seniors graduating this year — has a lot to do with the support and guidance of parents, guardians and other mentors in the community. It is because of the encouragement, faith and optimism of these people in the community that this year’s seniors can look into the future, see the promise that it holds and, without fear, yell out the challenge, “Yes!”
Franklin High School
The Class of 2011 at Franklin distinguished itself in many ways, including academics, sports and community service. Even Principal Chris Baldwin was wowed, himself a freshman at the school, after taking over from Gary Shields who retired last year.
“I have been truly impressed by the Class of 2011 during my first year as principal of Franklin High School,” Baldwin said of the class so great, it’s number one twice.
The standouts among this year’s 241 seniors are simply too numerous to list. School guidance counselor, Kathy Breedlove, called the class “among the academically strongest” in the school’s history, and at the FHS scholarship night, college-bound seniors tallied more than a million dollars in scholarships.
Jennifer Richter was named Valedictorian of 2011’s FHS Class and plans to study biology at UNC Chapel Hill. Richter is also a member of the National Honor Society. Competing in both cross country and swimming, Richter was also awarded the Scholar Athlete of the Year Award. In addition, Richter was a member of Math Club, the Art Club, and served on the student council. Richter’s academic achievements earned her a number of local scholarships, as well as some notable and prestigious regional and statewide scholarships, including The Journey Scholarship and The James and Emily Huckabee Advantage Scholarship from UNC.
The 2011’s FHS Class Salutatorian, Erich Baker, is a member of the National Honor Society. Baker is also well-rounded as a musician and an athlete. He was a strong competitor on the swim team and received the Scholar Athlete of the Year Award. He was a member of Music Honors Society, and also served on on the student council and participated in various clubs, including Interact and the Math Club. Baker plans to attend Davidson College in the fall and study chemistry or biology. He has been the recipient of scholarships from numerous organizations.
This year’s seniors have also distinguished themselves on the sports field, with exceptional performances seen in football, softball and soccer, to name a few. Seniors Jordan Pickens and Ben Carrion took the award for Outstanding Athletes of the Year at this year’s athletic awards ceremony.
Pickens, wonder-kind of the softball field, has signed with Walter State University to play softball on a full athletic scholarship. Other signings include, Blair Long with Mars Hill College for soccer; Ben Carrion with Appalachian State for football; Dewayne Issacs with Mars hill for football. Ashley Culpepper with Ole Miss for track and field; Parker Byrd for cross country; Genevieve Emrick to Western Carolina for track and field.
Asked for his advice for the seniors as they depart FHS, Principal Baldwin cited Mark Twain who once said, “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the one’s you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
“It is my hope that this graduating class takes this quote to heart,” said Baldwin. “They truly have the potential to accomplish great things.”
Franklin High School’s graduation ceremony is scheduled for Friday, June 17 at 7 p.m., at the Ramsey Center on the campus of Western Carolina University.