By STEVEN NALLEY
Shondra Nichols hesitated for a moment before starting her speech.
Nichols, salutatorian of the East Oktibbeha County High School class of 2011, gasped a little and took a step back just before reaching the podium. Once she started her speech with a little levity, however, nerves were no longer an issue.
“Hi,” Nichols said, eliciting a little laughter from the audience. “Teachers, families, friends and fellow graduates, today is a day to be thankful for. I especially thank all parents, step-parents and guardians who have stood by our sides. At East Oktibbeha County High School, we have achieved a great education, and we are now prepared to move on and tackle the next challenges in our lives.”
Nichols was one of 28 graduates who received their diplomas at EOCHS’s commencement ceremony Saturday at the Starkville Sportsplex, and her speech wasn’t the only one to give thanks to parents, teachers and other supporters for helping the students get this far.
Nichols said she was also grateful to everyone in the Class of 2011 for making every school day special.
“I love you guys, and I wish you well,” Nichols said. “To the faculty and staff members, I appreciate everything you’ve done to help me gain knowledge. I want to give special thanks to my English teacher, Mrs. Wright. She pushed me to my full potential and helped to guide me to where I am today.”
Next, Valedictorian Ashley Lowery said she gave foremost thanks to God for the opportunity to reach the head of the class. She said the power of God made amazing things possible for those who work and study hard.
“Secondly, I want to thank my family for being there to comfort me through all my trials and tribulations,” Lowery said. “Last, I want to say to the entire staff of East High, thank you. Thank you for shaping me, shaping my life, and helping me to become the young lady I am today. Most of all, thank you for believing in me and telling me what I could do when I thought I could not do it.”
Lowery said she wants her classmates to do their best and be their best. She also said she could still visualize the way she and her classmates were when they first came to EOCHS.
“Some of us were nerds, some of us were shy and some of us were just ready to take on whatever faced us,” Lowery said.
Oktibbeha County School Board President Curtis Snell said he was grateful to parents for letting the county school district have influence on their children. He said there is nothing the students can’t accomplish if they don’t try, but no one wins without crossing the finish line. Snell also quoted John 13:34-35.
“Jesus is talking to his disciples, and he says, ‘A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples,’” Snell said. “Love is the key.”
Then it was OCSD Superintendent James Covington’s turn to speak, and he said he felt a little like Nichols approaching the podium, because he realized he left his speech in the car. Still, Covington said he wanted the students to have better opportunities and go farther in life than the generation before them.
“When I first came to the district in 2002 to 2003, most of you were there at East Elementary School, and I believe y’all were in the fourth grade, and here it is nine years later and you’ve made it to your graduation day,” Covington said. “Everybody didn’t make it with you, but you can just say, ‘Thank God we made it here today.’”
Broderwick Cochran, principal of EOCHS, said in working with students, he had specific goals to mold students into the graduates they became. He said he realizes some students might not understand the reasons why school life was the way it was until they have a family of their own, have to pay their own bills or become college students.
“I wanted them to know when they go out there, that there’s going to be acceptable and unacceptable behavior,” Cochran said. “There will be things that you might not understand that we’re doing at school now to get you ready for the world out there.”
After Covington presented students with their diplomas, the students turned their tassels, prayed with Covington for the benediction, and left the Sportsplex as high school graduates.