Graduation season for Columbia County schools got off to a hot start for a second consecutive year at Harlem High School Friday night.
Before a packed house in the school’s football stadium, the 160 graduates heard speeches about taking pride in accomplishments, having courage and persevering.
Valedictorian Jared Long challenged his classmates to work their hardest at everything and to look at the bright side of life.
“A positive outlook on even the gloomiest of things can make all the difference and can inspire hope in someone who might need it the most,” Long said in his valedictory address.
Long’s presence on the podium should have been inspiring enough. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in sixth grade and has had multiple surgeries from that time on, with all of the tumor being removed just this past Thanksgiving. He was able to become valedictorian despite missing large chunks of school.
“I’ve had doctors’ appointmentments out the wazoo,” Long said. “I’ve had a couple of surgeries and missed some school and stuff. I missed 10th grade a little bit, like February to the end.”
He thanked his good friends, teachers, and administrators and especially his parents for believing in him. He also cited his faith in God with giving him the strength to cope.
It was also a special night for Dr. Sandra Carraway, finishing up her first year as Columbia County Schools Superintendent.
Carraway, a 1981 graduate of Harlem, gave her first commencement address as superintendent to her alma mater.
“It dawned on me driving over here that I graduated from this school and here I am standing before them as the leader of the school system,” said Carraway. “It was an awesome experience.”
Dalton Green, who signed a college baseball scholarship offer earlier in the day and thought it couldn’t get any better had changed his tune somewhat by the end of the commencement.
“It’s pretty even right now,” Green said.
While excited about being a graduate, Kaitlyn Cunningham called it a bittersweet moment.
“I’m nervous about what life holds,” said Cunningham. “Harlem’s a family. It’s sad we have to go our separate ways.”