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Hats off to the Class of 2017: Graduating students share their school pride

June 3, 2017 GMT

“Let Valley be your compass” are the parting words Midland Valley High Salutatorian Alivia Brewe left with her classmates Friday during the school’s commencement exercises.

In her address to the class of 2017, Brewe focused on the community pride that grows from the strong roots of family and friends in the Horse Creek and Midland Valley areas.

“People from the Valley are definitely different. We’re stronger. Our community holds us up as the backbone of our student body,” Brewe said. “Valley is what brings former students back as teachers. Valley is what allows us to endure through all that comes our way. Stay Valley strong.”

Brewe is one of more than 250 graduating seniors from Midland Valley High who received their diplomas at USC Aiken’s Convocation Center. Later, students from Wagener-Salley, North Augusta and Ridge Spring-Monetta high schools also graduated.

Students from South Aiken, Silver Bluff and Aiken high schools graduated Thursday.

All together, Aiken County Public Schools graduated more than 1,200 students in the class of 2017.

Midland Valley High Principal Carl White began the graduation ceremony citing his students’ many achievements.

“I hope that you are proud of the legacy that you leave behind and the many accomplishments you’ve earned, including over $11.7 million in scholarships,” he said. “I challenge each of you to continue to strive for excellence – to continue to exceed the expectations that others will have for you as you continue the Mustang legacy of excellence. I love you; I’m proud of you; and I will miss each of you.”

Midland Valley senior Paige Roof said she will miss her friends and her favorite teacher, Jennifer Mestres, when she starts at USCA in the fall to major in nursing, but she added she was excited to be graduating.

“I’ve been looking forward to graduation ever since I was in kindergarten, and I can’t believe that the day is here – that we’re actually graduating,” Roof said. “I’m very nervous and excited, and I can’t wait to see what life has in store for me.”

Like Roof, Preslee Sikes said she’s been looking forward to graduation “as long as I can remember.”

“It doesn’t seem real that it’s today,” she said.

Sikes said she will miss her friends, too, but she’ll take memories of walking down Midland Valley’s halls and seeing everyone’s friendly face when she leaves in late summer to study premed at Newberry College. That transition is exciting, too, she said.

“I’m excited about being on my own for the first time and being away,” she said.

Caleb Smith based his valedictorian address on his namesakes, Caleb and Joshua, two Hebrew spies from the Bible’s Old Testament. Instead of the giants that other spies saw in the land God promised the Israelites, Caleb and Joshua saw a land of filled with blessings and abundance, Smith said.

Smith challenged his classmates to be like Caleb and Joshua and to effect positive change.

“We are world changers,” he said. “We are difference makers. We are overcomers. We are giant slayers. We are history shapers. We are Mustangs. Congratulations, class of 2017. Let’s go change the world.”

Wagener-Salley High School

Waiting backstage at the Convocation Center to line up, Karlee Scott said she wasn’t “nervous yet” about giving the salutatory address to Wagner-Salley High School’s more than 50 graduates.

“But I will be in about 15 minutes,” she said.

During her talk, Scott told her classmates to be involved, take joy in the little things and not to rush life.

“You may not know it now, but you’re going to miss this,” she said, citing a song made popular for country singer Trace Adkins. “Now is the time to experience your life.”

Wagner-Salley High senior Cameron Shiffner said Friday was a good day.

“I feel great,” he said. “It’s not every day that you get to wake up and realize you’re graduating from high school.”

Shiffner said because Wagener-Salley is a small school and many students have been together for more than 12 years, he knows everyone in his class.

“It’s basically like another family at school,” he said.

But he added he’s excited about his transition to Coastal Carolina University in the fall, where he’ll major in business and minor in biology and try out for the baseball team as a walk-on.

“I’m looking forward to the bigger atmosphere,” he said.

Valedictorian Brianna Kirkland told her classmates she has known for years that she can’t believe she won’t start school with them again in the fall. She also offered some advice.

“Take pride in how far you have come. Have faith in how far you can go,” she said. “Now is the time for us to shine, a time when our dreams are within reach and possibilities are vast. Now is the time for all of us to become the people we always dreamed of being. This is your life. You matter, and the world is waiting.”

Ridge Spring-Monetta High School

Ridge Spring-Monetta High’s approximately 50 seniors sang the school’s “Alma Mater” to begin their graduation ceremony, and their singing impressed Aiken County Public School’s Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford.

“You knew every word and sang with spirit,” he said. “That’s always a good indication of the pride you have in your school.”

Salutatorian Kodi Smart, a graduating junior from Ridge Spring, will be at USCA next year and plans to major in biology with an emphasis in pre-med. She wants to become a radiologist.

“I’m really excited to be moving on and to get started with college and to end this chapter of my life with some of my friends,” she said.

Smart said she wanted to tell her classmates to keep a fresh perspective as they become adults in her salutatory address.

“As you go through life, don’t lose sight of what you wanted to do when you were a kid,” she said. “Keep those childlike ambitions, but use your adult knowledge to really reach those goals.”

Valedictorian Alicia Key said she plans to take a break this summer.

“I’m just going to relax and take it easy because I’ve worked really hard for the past 12 years, and I really deserve it,” she said. “Graduation day means that I finally made it. I’m glad to see my fellow classmates finish, too. I’m so proud of them.”

Key considered Furman, Clemson and Stanford universities for college, but Furman in Greenville, being closer to home, won out.

“I’m really looking forward to the fall,” she said. “I’m looking forward to starting my college life off really strong and making sure I transition into adulthood smoothly.”

Ridge Spring-Monetta Principal Kyle said Key recently was named the Aiken County Career Center Student of the Year, adding that her success is the school’s success.

“Every time we call her name to celebrate one of her achievements, it’s another success for our school, our community and for all of our kids,” Blankenship said. “She’s got a huge group of students who not only look up to her but also respect her as a member of our school family and as another Trojan at RS-M.”

Key’s success goes beyond academics, Blankenship said. Key made a public service announcement to help recruit bus drivers.

“It ended up getting us a ton of bus drivers,” he said. “I’m so proud. She’s set the bar very high, and I only expect that the next group of students will reach that bar and go over and above.”