The year comes to a close for a group of seniors at Cedartown and Rockmart High Schools who faced plenty of challenges, but came out on top to receive their diplomas this weekend in the Polk School District.
Families and friends gathered in the school’s football stadiums starting on Friday evening at The Rock where Yellow Jacket grads closed out their education and get ready for future careers, college and adventures aplenty. Dr. Bo Adams during a brief address thanked the class for all they accomplished over the past four years, and encouraged them to continue working hard toward their future goals.
“I have no doubt that each of you seated before us tonight are ready for your next great place,” he said. “As far as high school is concerned, there are no more tests to be given, no more essays to be written. The metal detectors are off. As far as the school and community is concerned, we are proud of you and wish you nothing but the best as you move forward in life. Go into the world and make us proud.”
Rockmart Valedictorian Mark Blalock told the class that he will miss the good times they had together over the past four years, but that a whole new world is waiting for them as one chapter closes and another begins. He also remembered back to the beginning, when he was a shy kid without friends and became a “loud kid without any friends,” though not exactly true as shared his experiences in hallways and classrooms at RHS.
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“I stand before you today as a reflection of the kindness and care held by the Class of 2023,” he said. “You guys shaped me into the person that I am, and I couldn’t be more thankful.”
He took a minute to brag about the many accomplishments including “an endless amount of region championships” as well as cultural achievements like great performances and artwork and “academic excellence across the board.”
“I know that this success will not cease as we exit this field tonight, but instead these last four years have only just been the beginning of a lifetime of success,” he said.
Salutatorian Grayson Simpkins said during her speech to the Class of 2023 that she believes her fellow Yellow Jackets are ready to face the challenges to come. She spoke about the need to approach those challenges with the same childlike wander and innocence, love and belief to inspire them to greatness even if it isn’t perfect.
“Half of me is still that curious child longing for the chance to live the life that was untouched by the contact of reason, but the other half of me knows that growing and learning are integral,” she said. “While learning is structural, it has the ability to feed a world of curiosity… Our years in school have allowed us to grow wiser practically, mentally and emotionally.”
Over in Cedartown on Saturday morning, Principal Scott Hendrix reminded the senior class of the measuring tape he took out for them at the assembly during the beginning of the year. He said with arms stretched that their time in high school was only a short measure of the full span of their time on earth, and to continue making the most of it.
“Now it’s time to move on, and to quote my good friend Rachel Graves, it is time for real talk,” he said. “Adult life can be rewarding, but I promise that it will be challenging. Our hope is that we’ve given you the skills to find success and happiness.”
Bulldog Class of 2023 Valedictorian Seth Wright had many thanks for all those who had a positive impact on his life, and told his fellow graduates that despite questions in 2022 about his valedictory speech, he wasn’t counting his chickens before they hatched.
“I wasn’t valedictorian yet, and didn’t want to jinx it,” he said. “But when they announced class rankings on Monday, I immediately began scrambling to think about what to say. One quote in particular came into my… ‘Everyone must leave something behind when they die. A child, or a book, or a painting, or a house, or a wall built, or a pair of shoes made or a garden planted. Something that your hand touched in some way so your soul has some place to go when you die.'”
Wright used the Ray Bradbury quote from Fahrenheit 451 to point out that life is short, and they have completed a huge chapter in their lives.
“The only things we are going to leave behind are the lives we change and the impacts that we have made,” Wright said. “Moving forward in life, if we don’t find places where our souls can live on past our time, then we are doing a disservice to our purpose here.”
Andrew Guzman, the CHS Salutatorian, talked about the cultural impact that the Class of 2023 experienced throughout their four years of school – everything from the shutdowns of COVID to the rise of TikTok during their brief time as Cedartown High.
“As you can see, our class has been through many ups and downs. I wouldn’t trade our experience at Cedartown High School for any other,” he said. “Thank you everyone who made this year and this journey possible.”
The Class of 2023 included more than 500 students between both schools this year. Some 310 graduates (at least that’s a number we’ve seen floating around) graduated this year at Cedartown High School. At least 200 finished out the year at Rockmart High.
This year’s group of graduates are the first to go through the entire span of their high school career having felt the impact of COVID-19. During their freshman year in 2020, students were sent home in March 2020 amid shutdowns due to the virus.
The Cedartown Class of 2023 also honored the memory of Jesus Betancourt-Torres, who would have graduated this year.