Ware County High School sent 339 graduates into the future Saturday morning with Commencement for the Class of 2022.
As the fog of the early morning turned into a bright sunny day, a crowd of more than 8,000 gathered in Memorial Stadium’s main grandstand for the ceremony to confer diplomas and honor the students.
The activity was a contrast to those held for the school’s past two graduating classes, both of which were impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The ceremonies for the 2020 and 2021 classes, respectively, were held in front of the grandstand in the south end zone of the football field with social distancing marking the seating for graduates and those in the stands. The 2020 class didn’t have its ceremony until early July, and only after months of discussion whether to stage it at all.
Saturday’s program returned the stage to its traditional position in front of the stadium pressbox with the class of graduates gathered in folding chairs on either side of the stage at normal spacing. The audience filled the stadium at a level nearly more than twice that of the previous two ceremonies.
BETA Club president Juliana Ponciano, among the 127 honor graduates, welcomed those gathered. A’Niya Fulton, of the WCHS Junior ROTC, offered the patriotic tribute with the pledge of allegiance before members of the school’s band played the national anthem.
Rusty Ganas, Chairman of the Ware County Board of Education, spoke on behalf of the school system, praising all who had contact with the students from family, friends and educational personnel during their journey of knowledge.
“You’re to be applauded for rising to this challenge,” Ganas said. “It’s my wish that your school experiences have assured you that you can meet class is to be applauded for rising to the challenge, my wish that your school experiences have assured you that you can meet your future head on and with your eyes wide open.
“May the years to come be kind to you and may God bless you with wisdom and much success.”
The graduates were led academically by Valedictorian Grace Allison Lee and Salutatorian Alexandra Marie Dela Cruz Cochon. Both the honorees addressed their fellow students and the audience. Each pointed to the successes members of the class experienced during their four years in high school, the challenges they faced and overcame which will help prepare them for the future.
“Failure is inevitable on the path to success, so don’t let it discourage you because I know that every single one of you are fully capable of achieving your greatest dreams,” said Cochon.
The Salutatorian also reminded all that Ware County will be with them regardless the places life takes them, and embrace their home.
“Ware County will be everywhere you go,” she said. “... A stranger’s kindness — which is uncommon in many places — will remind you of the community you came from and how compassion was never something you had to ask for. ... There’s no such thing as never looking back. Because who you are was shaped by Ware County, so be proud it.
“... I will miss this place with all of my heart, but I know that no matter how much time will have passed, Ware County will always be here to welcome us home.”
Lee pointed to COVID-19 impacting the majority of the years at WCHS for the class, and how its members adapted to forge on. Their sophomore year ended abruptly and the following year began in confusion.
“Suddenly, half of our friends weren’t in class with us anymore, and those who were risked getting quarantined,” Lee said. “Our paper and pencils were replaced with Chromebooks and Google Classroom. It was a difficult transition, but in the end, we made it through.”
The final year, which began after a slight delay, seemed to fly by to culminate in Saturday’s ceremony.
“Through all the trials, we made it through to the end of this journey, but this is only the first chapter of a much larger story,” the Valedictorian said.
Using a quote from singer-songwriter Billy Joel, Lee urged her classmates to “slow down, you’re doing fine. You can’t be everything you want to be before your time, when facing the challenges of the future.
“Let’s not forget our lives have just begun so let’s not rush,” Lee said. “Don’t let time pass you by because you’re waiting for a better future. When we reflect upon our lives, lets be able to say we didn’t just endure the trials, but we embraced the journey.”