The rafters at James Brown Arena echoed with cheers Saturday morning and didn’t completely quiet down until late in the afternoon.
Cheers and applause filled the building throughout the day as four Columbia County high schools – Evans, Grovetown, Greenbrier and Lakeside – held graduation ceremonies.
In all, more than 1,500 seniors crossed the stage to receive their diplomas Saturday.
Evans High School led off the day at 8:30 a.m. before a packed house that was abuzz with excitement long before the ceremony started.
Valedictorian Amy Youngsman tracked the graduates’ journey beginning in kindergarten with pigtails and
Power Rangers backpacks to the current day.
“Throughout high school we’ve begun the discovery of who we are and who we want to be,” she said. “The events of our senior year – both good and bad – define what it means to be the class of 2014.”
Youngsman noted what graduating meant.
“Graduation is a milestone that marks the day you start taking direct control of your decisions and futures,” she said. “Whether you’re going to college, the military or straight to the workforce, the future is what you make of it. In the words of Walt Disney, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it.’”
At Greenbrier High’s ceremony, valedictorian Josh Bartlett said “ambition” is the word that came to his mind for graduation.
“Hold on to the ambition that you have right now and carry it with you,” he said.
Grovetown High graduate Linward Jackson was looking forward to moving on to college.
“Now I just have four more years at GRU,” he said after the ceremony.
Gerry Meixiong, a Lakeside High honor graduate, said he was relieved his high school career was over and that he could relax a bit. He said he planned to visit relatives in China over the summer and work before going to Stanford University in the fall.
He plans to study engineering but said that could change.
“I’m so not ready to decide right now,” he said.
Colin Garcia said he planned to study mechanical engineering at Georgia or Georgia Tech but didn’t consider himself a math or science whiz.
“I liked physics when I could understand it,” the 17-year-old Lakeside graduate said. “But what I really like to do is put things together.”
James Brown Arena wasn’t the only place tassels were being turned Saturday. At West Acres Baptist Church in Evans, 73 seniors from Augusta Christian Schools received their diplomas.
Before the ceremony, salutatorian Anna Motes was worried about fighting off tears and where she’d stash her tissues.
“I don’t want to cry during my speech,” she said. “This place (Augusta Christian) really is a family. It’s a joyous day, but kind of sad.”
Motes made it through her speech without the tears that flowed afterward. In her address, she tried to explain the effect the school has had on her and that opening the next chapter of her life is bittersweet.
“I’m excited to be moving on to the next part of life,” she said. “But I cannot describe the impact 313 Baston Road has had on
Staff writers Steve Crawford and Jim Blaylock contributed to this article.