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Class of 2011 moves ahead

Unicoi County High School graduated its 2011 class on Thursday, May 19, with a third of this year’s 174 graduates awarded honor diplomas for academic endeavors during their high school careers.
“My hope for you today is that you will make the most of the opportunities you’ve been given,” UCHS Principal Rebecca Love said. She went on to say that this year’s group of seniors has been “an exceptional class.”
Myikaela Jones and Allen Williams spoke at the ceremony, having been nominated by the senior class and chosen by faculty members to do so.
“This is the closest group of young men and women to come out of this high school in a long time,” Jones said. “The detours along the way are both expected and accepted.”
Williams echoed his classmate’s sentiments, also calling his peers “the closest class in a long time.”
Williams added that, just like the Blue Nation-invented “roller coaster” cheer at this year’s sporting events, the graduates’ time at the high school has been an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs.
“All of the challenges we have faced,” he said, “we have faced as a class (and) as a school.”
Renea Jones-Rogers, chairman of the Unicoi County Board of Education, said she was “proud to look out and see a sea of blue,” adding that she remembers seeing some of the same faces five years ago sporting yellow “Live strong for Nick” T-shirts in support of fellow classmate Nick Rogers, who had been recently diagnosed with cancer.
Jones-Rogers said she expected the graduates to do great things and take their talents “to infinity and beyond.”
Director of Schools Denise Brown encouraged departing seniors to develop life skills and values that will carry them forward in their ensuing lives.
“You have to develop the attitude of ‘no matter what,’” Brown said. “Regardless of what’s going on around you, accept responsibility and move forward.”
She went on to stress the importance of reputation and said it must be “re-earned” each and every day. Brown concluded by advising students to learn from their mistakes and avoid repeating them “from now on.”
Several students were honored individually at this year’s commencement. Noe’l Bailey and Michael Baker received citizenship awards.
In addition, Erin Peavyhouse was presented the 2011 Jostens award and Nick Rogers earned this year’s John Philip Sousa band award.
Also recognized were senior class officers for the 2010-2011 school year, National Honor Society inductees, BETA Club members, drama class honorees and donors who gave blood on more than three occasions throughout this year’s blood drives.
Love went on to say that collegiate scholarships awarded to 2011 graduates for continuing their education beyond high school totaled more than $2 million.
As ceremonies concluded and the throng of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins congratulated their graduates, many of the seniors shared their prospects for the near future and their feelings of elation to have reached a milestone.
“This is awesome to finally see our class make it to this day,” Erin Tinker said. “We’ve all been through so much together.”
Tinker plans to study nursing at Northeast State in the fall, and she’s not alone. Chelsey Howard, Hannah Runnion, Sarah Smith, and Nathan Gouge are all planning on beginning their own forays into the medical field.
“It’s bittersweet,” Howard said.
“I am feeling great.” Runnion said. “I’m so happy to finally be standing here.”
“I will miss my friends so much,” Smith commented. “But this is also a very exciting time.”
An emotional Gouge found it difficult to find the right words. “I’m just speechless. Choked up.”
Miranda Miller, who plans to attend Carson-Newman in the fall to study writing, said she feels “overwhelmed” and “very excited.” Miller hopes to one day become a book editor and published author.
Laura Willis, who is currently studying at Tri-Cities Beauty College, plans to finish up her training there and transfer to Northeast, and later to East Tennessee State University, to study radiology.
“I hope all of my fellow graduates and friends have successful lives,” Willis said. “This is the first day of the rest of our lives, and it’s time to make the most of it.”