WENTWORTH — As about 275 graduating seniors sat in their seats inside Rockingham County High School on Saturday, they could see a firefighter’s uniform resting on a chair at the front, a memorial to Joseph Michael Hedgecock, a senior who was killed in a wreck in November.

The evening’s message grew more and more with each graduating speaker.

As a class, they have faced tragedy and adversity, but they know and want their peers to know that they can and will make it through to a brighter future.

Class President Tyler Tudor offered welcoming remarks and said, “To my graduation classmates, remember that it is not about the piece of paper that you receive tonight. It is about what you do with it. It is not about how many friends or few friends that you have. It is about the memories that you have made.”

“And, lastly, remember the words of the famous Miss Angela Wilson, ‘There is still time to fail,'” he added sparking a laugh from the audience.

Senior Class Treasurer presented the class poem, “Graduation Song” by Jay P. Narain.

“Feel free, as we always wanted, / Aim for the rosy future, as we always dreamt of, / Be, as we were meant to be,” she read, in part.

Heidi Vernon, the senior class vice president, followed and announced that their class gift would be one the school will enjoy for generations to come: a new digital marquee.

"We look forward to seeing the sign when we return in the future,” Vernon said.

When Valedictorian Christa Shreve took the podium to offer her Academic Reflections, she shared her personal story of hardship.  

Before her freshman year, Shreve lost her sister. What helped her weather the storm was the community she found at RCHS and the places where she and the many others who were graduating alongside her felt like they belonged.

“One day, in Ms. Wilson's English class during what seemed like a class discussion but turned into a therapy session, I was reminded that one of the most incredible parts of the human spirit is having the courage to just live another day in the face of tragedy in our lives,” she said. “That type of courage is infinitely valuable and it's in all of you.”

Following Anna Luking and Heath Carter’s wistful duet of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” Student Body President Tayte Beeninga held a moment of silence in honor and memory of the students who were not able to join them for the ceremony.

"While our classmates may be gone, they will never be forgotten,” she said. “They live on in our heart and our memories.”

Beeninga thanked all those who made it possible for the Class of 2019 to reach their graduation day and imparted the last message of wisdom the room of teenagers would hear before receiving their diplomas.

“The simple truth is this,” she said. “I cannot give you the perfect graduation speech just like you cannot live out the perfect life, but that doesn't mean we stop trying. While we cannot reach perfection, we can still strive for it. We can still work toward being better everyday. ... It takes courage to try but it takes guts to fail. Most importantly it takes absolute strength to get back up, shake off your mistake and then try again.”

Rockingham's 2019 graduating class included 19 North Carolina Academic Scholars, 31 Presidents Education Award recipients and 45 National Honors Society members.

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Joe Dexter is a staff writer for RockinghamNow and covers Reidsville, Wentworth, courts, crime and government.

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