Graduation handshake

Dayton Gresham (R) shakes hands with classmate Josh Kincaid (L) after delivering his graduation speech Saturday morning. Photo by Zach Mitcham

There was sunshine, wind, hugs and high fives as over 300 Madison County 2021 graduates took the stage on the Red Raider football field, had their tassels turned, smiled for the camera, then walked into a new phase of life.

Four Red Raider graduates stood at the podium Saturday to offer thanks to family, friends, teachers and school staff, along with words of encouragement to fellow classmates.

In her speech, “The Color of Us,” Valedictorian Teresa Vu urged her fellow classmates to “leave your boldest stroke and enter this new phase of adulthood with determination and hope of making a better world than the one that was left to us.”

She added that character counts more than a career.

“Being a doctor means nothing if you’re just going through the motions and don’t love helping others,” said Vu. “Being a lawyer means nothing if you serve injustice at the expense of your own integrity. Being anything means nothing if you don’t give your all every day and love what you do.”

She urged her classmates to keep going, even when they get down.

“Even when there is nothing left but the shreds of the good that was once there, there will always be those who pick up the pieces and start again, who will rebuild hope in humanity and who will paint their boldest colors on our world,” she said. “And as cliché as it is, we have to choose to be those people, to take a stand for what we believe is right and care more instead of caring less. We have to find the colors of our character and not only love what we do, but also find love for others. Yes we did it, we graduated, but there are worlds of problems that we have to cross, issues that are left up to our generation to solve.”

Salutatorian Macy Mullis said each graduate must now pick their path and dive in. She said the Class of 2021’s “time to swim has finally begun.”

“Whatever your sea might be, whether it’s creativity or finding your own authenticity or really you just want to visit Sicily, might I remind you that only five percent of our oceans have been explored,” said Mullis in her speech, “Bold Swimmer.” “And they are just patiently waiting for you and me, because today is our day to dive off of this dock and dive deep into our seas.”

The Madison County swimmer spoke of her love for sharks.

“If you know me well, you know that I love sharks, from the itty bitty lantern shark to the massive whale shark, I am astonished at their beauty and prowess,” said Mullis. “And a cool fact about them is that when they swim, the water runs through their gills and undergoes a process where the essential oxygen is extracted from that water. And though it might be cliché, day after day, I pray that you may be like a shark who must swim to survive, and I hope that you realize the deeper that you dive means the more that you’ll thrive, because we were not born to tread water at the surface.”

Dayton Gresham pointed out that Saturday’s ceremony would be the “last day we have to get up to attend something high school mandated.”

“And that’s a weird feeling,” he said in his speech, “Our Chance.” “I understand many of us claim to be ready to get out, but there’s always going to be that piece of us that forever holds onto those memories, good or bad, that we made here.”

He spoke of the song “Rivers and Roads,” about how it says rivers and roads “until I reach you.” He said he doesn’t think of this as a song about a significant other, but a tune about reaching your future self.

“I see it as you’re talking to you, the future you, the person you want to be, the person you’ll be once you travel through those rivers and roads,” he said, adding that graduates should be willing to take those side roads and explore life to the fullest.

Gresham said Saturday was indeed a farewell.

“I might not talk to half of you today for the rest of my life and it is what it is, you know what I’m saying,” he said. “But I found a way to be content upon it, because I know that we’re all going to blossom. We’ve been raised in such a great school system that is built to prepare young adults for the real world.”

Gresham said the graduates should recognize the love of those who support them.

“Guys, we’re loved,” he said. “Every single one of us. You can look out to the bleachers and think about the people at home. And you can have this warm feeling that someone will always be in your corner.”

He concluded: “This is signing out. I love you guys.”

Anniston Bales, in her speech, “Moving On,” said “no matter how far you go, just remember there is always things that can bring you back to the small town that we all call home.”

“We are tied together through our small-town roads, long country streams and empty parking lots where you take your tiny cars and lifted trucks to see how loud you can get your speakers until the cops show up,” she said.

Bales said the final year of high school is “the most important time of your life and the saddest.”

“You have your last high school football game, last prom, and the last time your parents will consider you a child,” she said. “With that being said, show all of your parents that you can do anything. You don’t have to have a very fulfilling job. Do what makes you happy. This is your time to live your life. Have fun, live it to the fullest.”


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