By Richard Rourk
More than 170 young men and women took their first steps to the rest of their lives when they marched across the stage in the middle of Gentry Stadium on Monday, May 17.
Unicoi County High School 2021 graduates said goodbye to their high school careers to embark on the next chapter of their lives.
“It’s time to step forward and become who you are meant to be,” said UCHS Princial Chris Bogart. “You always have a home here. Once a Blue Devil always a Blue Devil.”
UCHS Class of 2021 Speaker Ashleigh Edwards reflected on the challenges this class faced.
“I want you to think back to four years ago when we sat in the gym and we’re told these four years will fly by,” Edwards said. “My fellow brothers and sisters of the Class of 2021 what an honor it is to be speaking to you out here today and not behind a screen. What an honor it is to be here as a class in one single ceremony. Our generation has seen four presidential elections, the creation of life-changing technology and Supreme Court cases that changed the course of human history. We have also gone through some of the most tragic events in history together. We remember that spring of freshman year where we had to learn active shooter drills. Our generation will have to present the answers to so many questions. Why are innocent people still dying in public places? How do we handle a worldwide pandemic? How do we handle a difference of opinions? How do we protect our country? Looking in front of me, I am confident that our nation and world will provide the answers.”
UCHS Class of 2021 Speaker Miguel Vasquez recounted his difficult road to get accepted into college his fall.
“Congratulations to my classmates, we did it,” Vasquez said. “I can sit up and speak about the struggles we experienced the last 14 months, but that’s not what we are here for. We are here to celebrate the good times and the memories we have shared.”
Vasquez noted that he was born in Honduras and came to the United States when he was two years old.
“It was just my mom and me,” he said. “Early on I had to adjust to learning multiple languages. It was seventh grade when I saw that my uncle was an architect and I knew I wanted to be one as well. I tried looking up colleges near me but there weren’t many in the state that offered architecture and I could not afford to go out of state. I worked hard and I went to the Ayers Foundation and talked to them and they helped me to find scholarships.”
Vasquez said that he thought it was impossible for him to go to college because of his situation, but he decided to apply under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status.
“…God has given me an opportunity to apply for DACA and DACA gives a lot of teenagers the ability to live the dream of being in the United States,” he said.
“Thanks to the Ayers Foundation I will be attending Milligan,” Vasquez added.
Unicoi County Director of Schools John English addressed the Class of 2021.
“To our families I want to thank you for partnering with us,” English said. “Graduates, this is a special night and I’m so proud of you. I hope you do two things tonight. I hope you reflect on everything that led you into getting here tonight. I also hope you look ahead at the open canvas you have before you. I’m extremely proud of you all.”
Bogart sent out a special letter earlier this week to all of the graduates.
“To say this year has been interesting would be an understatement,” Bogart’s letter stated. “We started the year in virtual learning and then went back and forth a couple of times. And I think for the majority of the year, your senior year has been quite a different experience. I know this year was not the typical senior year you all dreamed of when you started high school. The time you had here was interrupted in a way unlike anything we have seen in our history as a nation. But understand this; you have left a legacy in the halls of Unicoi County High School and that legacy will last forever.”
According to Bogart’s letter, serving as principal to this class has been an honor. “It has been a great privilege to serve as your principal for the past four years,” Bogart wrote. “I am always amazed that I have the opportunity to get to know so many of you over your time as a student. When you arrive as freshmen it is almost impossible to see you as seniors. But then we blink and there you are, walking through those doors into the Commons on the first day of senior year. Time flies and it never stops moving. I count it a blessing to have had the chance to watch you grow up before our very eyes.”
Bogart concluded his letter by reminding the Class of 2021 that they will always have a home in Unicoi County. “Our community has a tradition of producing hard working, determined, and successful individuals who go on to do great things,” Bogart’s letter read. “Being a Blue Devil is still special. The bonds we form will never really be broken. Once a Blue Devil, always a Blue Devil. Congratulations on your graduation. This is just one step into a lifetime of possibilities. Don’t let anything hold you back from what you want to achieve in your lives. And always remember, just because you have graduated doesn’t mean we will ever forget you. You’ve always got a home at UCHS.”