PILOT MOUNTAIN — The 148 graduates of East Surry High School received diplomas at commencement exercises Friday night and began the journey of the rest of their lives, but they didn’t leave unarmed.
In hot and humid conditions on the school’s football field where the packed stands rivalled those of a homecoming crowd, the outgoing students were treated to a program combining good advice, lessons for living and ample amounts of humor.
“Good morning, East Surry!” student body President Nathan Willard Nichols said during a farewell address to his fellow students while borrowing from the “Good Morning, Vietnam” movie about a popular wartime disc jockey.
“One final announcement,” added Nichols. “We can finally leave.”
The student body president offered more of the same with a bittersweet assessment of his years at East Surry as classmates formed a sea of red in front of him.
“I laughed with some of you and I’ve cried with some of you — and helped you write essays,” Nichols said.
“And I’ve joked with you, and for that I’m thankful.”
The upbeat tone for the graduation ceremony also was exemplified by another student speaker, Bethany Regan Clayton, senior class president.
“A wise man once told me, if you wait until the last minute, it will only take a minute,” Clayton said of a desire to keep her remarks short.
The senior went on to reference the unlikely duo of George W. Bush and rapper Tupac Shakur.
In a response to question once raised by Bush, “Is our children learning?” Clayton said, “Here at East Surry, we IS learning.”
And in advising her fellow grads to always remember several key things, the senior class president noted that “Tupac is still alive” — reflecting a conspiracy theory that the rap singer wasn’t fatally shot in 1996 as believed, but is now residing in Cuba.
But there were plenty of serious moments Friday night on the Cardinals’ field, including when Clayton also offered up bits of wisdom for the departing seniors, such as: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind,” and “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
Nichols also supplied his share of life advice, telling classmates that among the things he wish he had known BEFORE high school was to make himself happy every once a while — something he didn’t practice at times.
“Remember to live — be young,” he urged.
Nichols also told the group that life won’t always be easy, and sometimes being one’s best is not enough.
“It’s OK to not be OK,” the student body president said. “You’ve already survived 100 percent of your worst days.”
Normally, school administrators have something to say to graduating seniors, but East Surry Principal Lorrie Sawyers confided — after helping to hand out their diplomas in red covers, that the Class of 2018 is special to her.
This is because she and that group have been together for seven years — counting their high school time and beforehand at Pilot Mountain Middle School, where Sawyers previously worked.
“As I stood on the stage and handed you each a diploma,” Sawyers said, almost tearfully, “I felt like the proud mother of each and every one of you.”
The principal offered other heartfelt words.
“You are such a special class to me,” Sawyers said, expressing satisfaction at watching its members mature over the years. “In a lot of ways, I think we’ve grown up together.”
Some students have found the going easier than others, the principal acknowledged. “But you’ve all made it here tonight.”
She reminded the seniors that much is yet to come.
“A lot of people are going to tell you that high school is the best days of your life” and also college, Sawyers said.
“It’s not true,” she countered.
“Every day can be the best day … live every day as if it were your last.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.