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Class of 2024 commencement ceremonies held after storms subside
Speeches encourage students to find their passion, dream, and persevere
SEHS 2024 cap toss
The Class of 2024 from South Effingham High School toss their caps in the air to celebrate graduation May 25. (Photo by Jeff Whitten/Effingham Herald.)

By Barbara Augsdorfer, Editor for the Effingham Herald

When the class of 2024 were freshmen, high school was not what they envisioned it would be. They had finished middle school virtually and were just getting used to the “new normal” of co-existing with COVID-19. High school started virtually, too.

Everyone had to learn to be flexible.

That flexibility was used again May 24 and 25 for graduation ceremonies at Effingham County and South Effingham high schools. The Georgia weather went from sunny and hot, to cloudy and rain in a matter of hours both days. Thunder boomed and rain started just four hours before graduation was to begin at ECHS on Friday.

Sound equipment was wrapped with plastic trash bags and placed under canvas awnings to keep it dry and from shorting out.

Parents and families who arrived early at ECHS waited in their cars, while some braved the on-and-off sprinkles and light downpour under umbrellas in the bleachers.

During a break in the clouds when it looked like the rain was subsiding, field staff used leaf blowers to dry the graduates’ seats on the field.

The rain was not quite done. One last steady downpour ended around 6:30 p.m.

District officials posted updates on the ECSD Facebook page both nights saying graduation was still “on schedule”.

The rain cooperated and stopped. The clouds cleared just before 7 p.m. The show was on.

Nate Hayes at graduation
ECHS Senior Class President and Valedictorian Nate Hayes leads his classmates into the stadium. (Photo by Barbara Augsdorfer/Effingham Herald.)
At ECHS, Nate Hayes gave two speeches – one as class president and one as class valedictorian.

Both speeches encouraged his classmates as they now must make their own decisions and live with the rewards or consequences and learn to make changes accordingly.

“If you are willing to learn, no one can stop you,” Hayes said. “What may take you a lifetime to build, someone can destroy in a few minutes. Build anyway.”

Hayes also charged his classmates to chase their dreams with an acrostic, “Dedication, Resilience, Empathy, Ambition, Motivation.

“Without failure there is no learning,” Hayes added. “The road won’t be easy, but it will be worth the effort.”

Class Salutatorian Logan Vining continued the theme of perseverance. “I may not know your struggles, but we’re here celebrating you (plural) and your graduation,” Vining said.

“Your value is not based on a statistic. Your value as an individual is not based on a perfect score,” Vining continued. “Everyone has a role to play and every role is important.”

The Class of 2024 has grit, if you ask ECSD Superintendent Dr. Yancy Ford.

“Grit is the courage to push through,” Dr. Ford told the graduates at both high schools. He also used an acrostic: Guts, Resilience, Initiative, Tenacity.

“Have the guts to pursue your dreams, your passion,” Dr. Ford said. “Have resilience to bounce back and show up every day. Take initiative and have the tenacity and determination to move forward.”

ECHS Principal Greg Manior told his graduates, “Chase your dreams with vision and purpose,” and to maintain their friendships they built in high school.

“Your success is not measured by wealth, but by the impact you have on others,” Manior added.

"Passion", "Dream", "Walk Your Path" were all themes touched on during the two nights of graduation ceremonies.

South Effingham Senior Class President Sydney Crawford told her classmates, “Behind every success story is passion. Each of us has a path to follow. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and embrace the uniqueness of your path.”

SEHS Salutatorian Natalie Heape added, “Do whatever you want to do. Make your choice. Uplift your peers. Live the life.”

SEHS Valedictorian Nathaniel Wicker encouraged his classmates, “When you get knocked down, get back up,” and “Be thankful for the help that got you here.”

Dr. Torian White, principal of SEHS, told the alumni-to-be that he sat in a chair on the turf at The Corral in 1999. “I had a range of emotions and a lot of questions,” White said.

Twenty-five years later he gave his graduates five pieces of advice:

“There is no substitute for hard work.”

“Keep the plan; but be flexible”

“When life gets ‘life-ing’, tap into a greater power and do something good.”

“People are in your life for a purpose.” And,

“You are a unique gift to the world. Be great. Don’t be late!”

[Editor's note: More photos are posted on the Herald Facebook page.]