FCHS Class of 2023: 'We're done'

by Sean Dunlap

Franklin County High School conferred six dozen diplomas to its graduating upperclassmen during an emotional and, at times, humorous hour-long service on Friday, May 19 at Louie Mullins Memorial Stadium in Meadville.
The program began with a processional march by FCHS seniors around the distance of the stadium track — parading past well-wishing spectators in the visitors stands and then to the packed home side of the football field, which was filled with cheering family members, before taking their seats.
Senior Ken’trez Darell Bonds opened the event with student-led prayer in which he asked for God’s guiding hand on what the future holds for himself and his peers that were part of the 12th grade class completing its recommended course of studies.
“Let us not forget the blessings that follow behind us,” Bonds said. “This school has given us a safe place to learn in and a strong foundation to build upon as we take these next steps.”

Bonds prayed for the school’s teachers and family members who had helped the senior class reach what he referred to as a “finish line.”

“We have experienced many bumps in the road, and, on this day, we especially thank you for the friends we have among our classmates, the jokes we will laugh at in the years to come and even for the hardships and tears we have endured side by side,” he continued.
“Your love has been made evident through the relationships we have enjoyed. Let us continue to lay down our lives for each other as You did for each of us. Let us love each other fearlessly and seek Your will for the remainder of our lives.”

In opening remarks to start the commencement program, Franklin County Superintendent of Education Chris Kent thanked parents, family members and friends for the role they played in helping senior students reach this milestone in their lives.

“We thank you for the opportunity you have given us in educating this awesome group of kids,” Kent said.
“Seniors, I want to especially thank you for your perseverance and hard work in overcoming obstacles and difficulties you have faced to reach your goal of education. The challenges and fears we all faced during the COVID-19 pandemic only made you stronger as a class and stronger as individuals.”

Kent shared how proud he was of each senior and noted his prayer for the group was that all their dreams come true and they reach every goal they have set for their respective lives.

In pointing to the direction graduates would soon be taking, FCHS Principal Lisa Storey said of the 72 members of the FCHS Class of 2023 that 76 percent have committed to further their education at the college level while 2 percent have announced plans to enter the military.
“Another 10 percent of the graduates have committed to going to a trade school and another 12 percent have said they are entering the workforce,” Storey continued.
“This is an awesome group, and, as your principal, I want to tell our seniors that we’ve been together since elementary and middle school and through high school … and it has been my sincerest honor and pleasure to be with you and I love you. I wish you all the best.”

Salutatorian Lillian Jane Hutto began her remarks by thanking the teachers who had shaped the lives of seniors, the parents who had raised these upperclassmen and the friends that have been such an integral part of each other’s lives through the years.
She noted the graduation program was proof she and her classmates were done with high school and had their respective futures to look forward to.

“Whether you’re heading off to college, joining the workforce or the military, or just taking some time for yourself, never forget where you came from nor the potential each one of us holds,” Hutto said.
“Throughout high school, we have learned so much about ourselves and each other. We entered our freshman year know knowing what to expect, but we showed we are the generation of change and have proven we can push through whatever life throws at us.”

Hutto pointed out everything fell into place for the class during sophomore year with students becoming more involved with their junior year bringing anticipation of graduation and what the future holds.

“Our senior year was so long, but so short,” she went on to say.
“It was filled with all of our lasts … our last homecoming, last game day and last prom. We were wishing for the days to go by faster, and now that it’s over, it is somewhat bittersweet to see it all come to an end.”
Hutto said she and her peers not only gained knowledge in regards what they studied while at FCHS, but also learned other important lessons that will be part of their lives in the future.

“The first lesson is to cherish your time and live life to the fullest,” she added. “Have fun and soak in every opportunity. High school gave me so many memories and my two best friends — Brooklynn Cupit and Karlee Wallace.
“The second lesson is to choose kindness as you never know what someone is going through or how you can impact his or her life.

“How you treat people reflects who you are as a person … choose to be the example of kindness and compassion you wish for others to become.
“Third, and most importantly, control only what you can control. Bad things are going to happen and all you can do is handle the situation with grace and maturity. Don’t try to change things you simply cannot change.”
To this end, Hutto suggested her fellow graduates can control the amount of effort they put forth in whatever they attempt to accomplish.

“The lessons we learned, the books we’ve read, the essays we’ve written, the nights we’ve spent studying for tests the next day, the relationship that began and ended, and all of the delightful and dreadful experiences we’ve had have all led up to this day that we never thought would come so fast,” she said.

“High school wasn’t meant to last forever and it’s time to say goodbye.”

She concluded by telling classmates to never lose sight of what has shaped them to become the bright and promising individuals that they have become.

Valedictorian Greyson Ridge Clanton started his comments by thanking God for where he was in life along with his family — parents, Shane and Missy Clanton, and brothers, Stone and Mason — as well as his extended and church families for the support and love they’ve so freely given him.
He also specifically cited Storey and FCHS instructor Ashley Windom along with baseball coaches Michael Ward, John Costilow, Josh Thibodeaux and Kent King and the baseball program for the impact all of them have had on his life.

“I could go on and on, but I want to say that I think we have the best school district around and the best teachers,” Clanton said.
“To my classmates, this isn’t just about me, but about everyone who is sitting on this track. It’s a big deal to get up at 6:30 every morning and go to school for seven hours a day for 13 years of your life.
“I have been blessed to know these people and I am proud to call them my friends. Our class has always been small in size and that has made us really close. Every one of us has value and worth … it doesn’t matter what your GPA or background is, but God has a plan for all our lives.”

Clanton cited Jeremiah 29:11, which reads, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

“This verse tells us God has a plan for everybody — no matter what we are doing,” he continued.
“Even sometimes when we pray and might feel like nothing has happened, He is always moving. God is good all the time and I wouldn’t have wanted to live anywhere else than right here in Franklin County or go to any other school.”

Clanton thanked the Class of 2023 for the wonderful memories that had been made and also thanked those who have supported the senior class.

He said the graduation ceremony was more than just a milestone for those participating.

“I would like to think that we will stay in close contact with each other,” he went on to say.
“But, like most classes, after tonight that will be tough because we are all taking our own paths. Hopefully, we will see each other at homecoming or at Five Star eating chicken or pumping gas.
“A lot of people tend to get upset during this time and I get it. I would like to say that it’s bittersweet, but it’s not … it’s sweet.”

Clanton said he would like to think the future is big for himself and his classmates, but the one thing they should never lose sight of is God’s plan for them is sound and just.

“Give Him the glory, and you ain’t got nothing to worry about … I promise you,” he continued.
“I love you all and always remember that we were the best class to ever walk these halls. And once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog.”

In closing his speech, Clanton prayed over his class and for the minds God had given the seniors, the families that continue to love and support these young people and for the future of the Franklin County School District and local communities in educating and raising exceptional young people who can change the world.