It turns out that 13 is a lucky number, especially for the 13 First Presbyterian Christian Academy seniors who stepped onto the stage at Fort Stewart’s Main Post Chapel to receive their high-school diplomas Saturday morning.
Shannon Hickey, the interim head of school, addressed the outgoing seniors and offered thanks for each student’s dedication before turning to the audience and thanking all the parents who made all the sacrifices needed to get their children to this day.
Hickey offered some sage advice to the outgoing Class of 2015.
“Tell the truth; follow the golden rule; be fair; be a good friend; give back to your community; read the Bible, it has the answers, call your parents; never, ever compromise who you are; and always do your best and God will take you the rest of the way,” she said, and then issued a final challenge to the group. “Walt Disney said, ‘All of our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.’ I challenge you graduates to always follow your dreams and never settle for anything less.”
Co-salutatorian Sarah Gonzalez tried to remain composed as she spoke about a specific teacher who changed her outlook on learning.
“This teacher … he was the only one to say to me, ‘Sarah, you are better than this,’” she said, her voice quivering. “He was the first teacher that ever expected more from me than failure. When I did not believe in my own capability, this man did. Mr. (Charles) Canup, whether you know it or not, you were that teacher. And I need to let you know that you inspire students, and I can say that without a shadow of doubt because you inspired me. I would not be standing here, nor would I be wearing this medal of salutatorian, if God did not put those words of encouragement in your heart to say to me. Now that I am older, I know it is my responsibility to be the one expecting more from myself.”
Gonzales read the class Scripture, 1 Corinthians 15:57-58, and noted that a new beginning was minutes before them.
“A beginning to face challenges with fear or with fearlessness,” she said. “A beginning that we will choose to either strengthen or weaken our faith in God. A beginning that we can make the most of our time or waste it away. Seniors, it is likely you’ve already had the opportunity to make these choices, but I believe that with this new beginning, these choices will come at a greater expense that we’ve ever known before.”
Gonzales then declared, on behalf of her outgoing class, that they will be fearless and strong and hold their faith in God as they all forge ahead.
Col. Kirk W. Eggleston, the commander of the Army Medical Department Activity on Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield, was welcomed as one the keynote speakers. He spoke to the graduates about the three C’s: congratulations, culmination and citizenship.
“This is a great day for the graduates; you’ve worked hard most of the time,” he said, drawing laughter. “You are here today because you’ve successfully completed your high-school education. … This is something you should be very proud of. This day represents the culmination of your first phase of life, your childhood. You are no longer considered a child or a juvenile; now, the world sees you as young adults in many ways. But (don’t) let this day be the end of your learning. Now you have a lot more challenges ahead.”
Concerning citizenship, Eggleston said people should exercise their right to vote, serve whether in the military or civil service, find a rewarding occupation, volunteer and support family as well as those unable to support themselves.
“Take responsibility for your responsibilities,” he said.
Valedictorian Sarah McPherson said she spent 15 years at FPCA, which she called her home away from home.
“There are not many places today where you can be challenged academically with rigorous courses and be instructed with Christian values that can carry you for a lifetime,” she said. “It saddens me to think that we will all be moving on to new roads — different paths that may intersect at some point but on journeys that are entirely our own. It is not the obstacles that we face that defines us; it is how we face those obstacles.”
U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., another guest speaker, told funny stories. He said people often ask him if he ever feels important.
“And I tell them there was a time I felt important… I remember when I was elected mayor. … Remember, I am just a small-business man. … I can tell you that the first thing I did when I got to work every morning was go to the back of the pharmacy and go to the broom closet,” he said. “I would go out front and sweep up the trash. But this was a different morning, I had just been elected mayor. So I walked in the store and the technician was there, and she was just typing away. … I walked to the back and I got my broom and I thought, ‘Wait, now that I’m the mayor do I still have to go out front and sweep and pick up the trash?’ My technician kept right on typing. She didn’t even bat an eye and, without skipping a beat, she said, ‘If you want it done, you do.’”
With the room erupting in laughter, Carter said, “It is important to get an education. … However, do not mistake the importance of your accomplishment with you yourself being important.”
He encouraged the graduates to become productive members of society.
“We look forward with great anticipation to the things that you will do in your future. … There was a time in my life that I though the greatest joy you could experience is being loved,” he said. “One day, I realized that the greatest joy a person can possibly experience is the joy of giving love. My hope for you is that you will enjoy the experience of being loved and enjoy the greatest experience that is giving love.”
Co-salutatorian Demetrius Williams closed the ceremony by reminding his classmates that tough days might lie ahead.
“There will be good days and there will be bad days, and the bad days are the days that will make us,” he said. “The trials we will soon face will mold us into the successful adults God calls us to be. But only through faith in God can we get through these bad days. The good days are the days we give thanks to our Lord for the abundant blessing he has bestowed upon us. I challenge my classmates to take control of their lives and make the correct decision to ensure success in their lives.”
Hickey and FPCA board member Jerry Kicklighter then presented graduation diplomas to: MaKayla Alexander, Michael Burnett, Densier Carnes, Sarah Gonzalez, Frederick Heaggans, Joshua Kuhns, Elise Letnaunchyn, Sarah McPherson, Christian Melton, Calvin Miclat, Michelle Roberts, Richard Smith and Demetrius Williams.