By STEVEN NALLEY
After extensive research and preparation, Brian Xu said he found the perfect introduction to his valedictory speech while enjoying a burrito at Taco Bell.
“‘Will you scratch my back?’ read the Fire Taco Bell sauce packet,” Xu said. “Unknowingly, we have all scratched each other’s back throughout high school — figuratively, not literally, of course. What is so inspiring about this class, and our entire school, actually, is that there is a feeling that ... we actually like each other. Starkville High School fosters an environment where students genuinely care for their peers ... Because of this altruistic attitude, we are able to stand side by side and not only reach the high expectations set for us, but achieve beyond them.”
Xu was one of 198 seniors who graduated from Starkville High School in a ceremony Friday at Mississippi State University’s Humphrey Coliseum.
Welcoming guests to the ceremony, SHS principal Keith Fennell took time to congratulate seniors not only on their graduation, but on class’s numerous achievements. He said the class includes 49 Mississippi Scholars, 21 honors graduates, nine superintendent’s distinguished seniors and five highest honors graduates.
“Isn’t this a good-looking group on the floor?” Fennell said. “Starkville High School’s students, led by this class, have maintained a commitment to excellence in academics, athletics and the arts. They have learned that by their example, they can lead others each day, and they have also learned to lean on each other in times of tragedy. Combined with the scholarships received by this graduating class that are now approaching the $3 million mark, I can truly say I am proud to be a Yellowjacket.”
Several parts of Xu’s graduation speech drew roaring laughter from students and guests alike. For instance, he sincerely thanked Fennell for holding them to the dress code while still satirizing it relentlessly. The humor extended through his advice to the graduates, but his speech was more than a comedy routine.
“First, don’t trip (as you receive your diploma),” Xu said. “Second, cherish all of your teachers, coaches and classmates who have scratched your back, making an impact on you and transforming you into the older young person you are today. Especially cherish those we have lost, and remember how it was a privilege to know Breanna Hampton and Devin Mitchell. They both inspired us by how joyfully they lived their lives. Lastly, represent where you came from and what you were a part of after you have left.”
The salutatorian, Lauren Hughes, also paid tribute to her classmates’ achievements and the teachers’ hard work, and she also thanked the parents for their patience, love and encouragement. Like Xu, Hughes laced her speech with both levity and solemnity.
“We learned a lot during our days at Starkville High, knowledge that will prove to be invaluable in the coming years,” Hughes said. “We’ve dropped some old habits and picked up a few new ones — shout out to my fellow procrastinators — we’ve said goodbye to graduating seniors (and) retiring teachers, and we’ve lost some dear friends. We have learned what a true friend is, how to cope with tragedy, and the importance of living life to the fullest.”