MOULTRIE, Ga. — Had 2020 been a normal year, families would have crowded Mack Tharpe Stadium Saturday morning to watch 543 Colquitt County High School seniors receive their diplomas.
Instead, the high school posted a YouTube video featuring the speeches that would have been delivered that morning, along with photos of the seniors who would have received the diplomas.
The coronavirus pandemic that caused the in-person graduation to be postponed until July was on the minds of all the speakers. Schools closed March 13 and never reopened for the year, although many students took part in online classes.
“It would be an understatement to say the last few months have been less than ideal,” valedictorian Austin Counts quipped in his address.
Counts admitted that for a while he had dwelt on the things he missed out on this year, but he urged others to tear themselves away from that trap. He told them to be patient and to look for silver linings. He said other roadblocks would reveal themselves throughout the graduates’ lives, and he said he and his fellow students should use them as opportunities to grow.
His message echoed sentiments expressed by senior class president Karina Martinez and salutatorian Ian Smalls, both of whom spoke earlier in the program.
“Although we are living in unprecedented times and this is not the graduation we could have ever anticipated, I want to encourage my classmates to focus on the positive and the future and to be optimistic,” Martinez said in her address. “When life throws us obstacles, be prepared to meet them with perseverance and determination.”
CCHS Principal Jamie Dixon praised the graduates for their responses to the difficulties that had befallen this school year, and he also focused on the positive.
“Should you ever lose your way, know this,” he said. “This community will always have your back, point you in the right direction and whisper these three words in your ear: Go, Pack, go!”
Dixon also took a moment to remember a CCHS student who would have been among the graduates had she lived. Jayla Tranay Alexander was 18 years old when she was shot to death Nov. 10 in a drive-by shooting on 12th Avenue Southeast.
“Miss Jayla Alexander was the victim of a senseless crime that took her away from her beloved family, friends and school,” Dixon said. “She impacted so many lives in her short tenure with us. Personally, I will always remember her infectious smile that always seemed to brighten the day of anyone who came in contact with her.”
The video of the virtual graduation is posted on YouTube and linked to the Colquitt County High School Facebook page and this story at moultrieobserver.com.
The Colquitt County Board of Education has scheduled an in-person graduation for July 18 at Mack Tharpe Stadium, assuming the coronavirus outbreak has been sufficiently controlled by then.