By STEVEN NALLEY
The emotion of the moment became too much for Anika Clark.
Clark, class speaker for the West Oktibbeha County High School Class of 2011, fought back tears even as she said she saw her classmates and their families going through a lot of emotions, including joy, hope, and some sadness. Then, she was overcome by the next words of her speech:
“We have been together for four years,” Clark said, sobbing. “We have not only become classmates; we have become a family.”
The commencement ceremony for WOCHS Saturday at the Starkville Sportsplex was bittersweet as 21 students prepared for their futures, said farewell to each other, and, on more than one occasion, paid tribute to a dearly departed friend.
In 2009, Michael Jones, then a junior in the Class of 2011, died on Christmas Eve in a car accident. Clark paid tribute to Jones in her speech.
“He has been missed greatly, and through this tragic accident, our big family has gotten closer and stronger,” Clark said. “This graduation is not only for us, but it is for him too.”
After Clark’s speech, Salutatorian Atallah Lampkin addressed the audience.
“It seems like it started yesterday, but It’s been 4 years, 48 months and 1,450 days since we started this journey as freshmen,” Lampkin said. “We were naive, confused, and really had no clue who we really were, but today, we’re before you all, young men and young women about to embark on a journey. I stand here before you today overwhelmed with memories that you hold as well, the pep rallies, long lunch lines at the cafeteria, field trips, and long buses out to school.”
Lampkin said it is important for her fellow students to stay true to themselves, because their identities are some of the most God’s most precious gifts.
“I believe most people in the world today are so caught up trying to impress other people that they lose what made them special in the first place,” Lampkin said. “God did not call you to be somebody else. God called you to be you.”
Jeremy Brown, valedictorian, was up next, and he dedicated his speech to his mother and to Michael Jones.
“Whether it’s college, a new career or trade school,” Brown said, “I know that everyone in the graduating class of 2011 possesses the skills and abilities to be special in whatever he or she endeavors in.”
Brown said while the students might not succeed at everything, their lives should not be defined by failures, but rather by how they overcome failures. Jones quoted the Bible to make his point, along with the rap artist 50 Cent.
“We all know the phrase, ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’,’ but I bring to you another phrase: ‘Accomplish your goals or die trying,’” Brown said.” As Philippians 4:13 states, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ Remember this Bible verse and keep God first, and you will always be successful.”
In his remarks to students, Oktibbeha County School Board President Curtis Snell said the students could be either a class of problems or a class of solutions. Like Brown, Snell also said there was more to success than getting rich.
“Being a productive citizen in life means more than making a lot of money,” Snell said. “I don’t know, I’m not Donald Trump, but in listening to him talk, every time I hear him, it’s hard for me to believe he’s happy.”
James Covington, OCSD superintendent, said commencement ceremonies get their names from the fact that they mark the beginning of students’ lives.
“I heard Ms. Lampkin talk about the long breakfast lines and long lunch lines and bus rides, but let me tell you something,” Covington said. “That tassel you’re getting ready to turn today is worth all the hassle that you’ve been going through all of these years.”
Covington then presented students with diplomas, and the Beth-El Missionary Baptist Church Choir sang “He Saw The Best In Me” before students turned their tassels, prayed with Shavonne Davidson’s benediction, threw their caps in the air and moved on to the next phase of their lives.