Houston County high schools hold commencement ceremonies

PERRY — More than 1,300 high school graduates in Houston County turned their tassels Saturday during commencement ceremonies at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter. More than 200 Perry High School students graduated Friday night.

Members of the graduating class of 2009 from Houston County High School, Northside High School, Perry High, Warner Robins High School and the Houston County Career & Technology Center were granted diplomas, described by many students as “long-awaited” and marking their crossover into adulthood.

David Carpenter, superintendent of Houston County schools, addressed the students at each exercise — offering five lessons to apply in life.

“Become the person you were meant to be and live life with passion and purpose. Live your dreams to the fullest. Capture your life’s moments. Have a foundation based on faith. Put others before yourself,” he told them.

Quoting American horticulturist George Washington Carver, Carpenter urged the mostly 17-year-olds and 18-year-olds to be kind-hearted and charitable.

“How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong — because someday you will have been all of these,” he said.

Sherri Freeman celebrated her first graduation as principal of Houston County High, calling on her “brilliant Bears” throughout the event.

“I’ve always believed in the power of words and I choose them purposefully,” she said, citing a message she gives students at the start of every school day. “You are brilliant. Your lives will be productive and you are destined for greatness.”

Brandon Munda, valedictorian of the class of nearly 500 students, spoke to his classmates about embracing the “beginning” and the “end.”

“Ultimately, I challenge you to make the sunset better than the sunrise,” he said.

Munda, a Golden Eagle nominee, Governor’s Honor nominee, a district STAR student and a finalist in the National Merit Scholarship Program, plans to attend Emory University in the fall on a Woodruff Scholarship.

Anna Schmitz, the class’s salutatorian who was voted “Most Likely to Succeed” by her peers, reflected on the four-year journey.

“We’ve grown more confident, found our self-identity and discovered what values we hold close to our heart,” she said.

The strong friendships and opportunities to grow individually are what best friends Laura Monsalve and Stacy Sepulveda said they most will cherish about the high school years.

“Making friends and knowing that we’ll keep them forever,” said 18-year-old Monsalve, who plans to attend Macon State College in the fall.

Sepulveda also will be studying there.

The Warner Robins residents said they hope to continue their tradition of having sleepovers — established while staying up late to study for Joey Givens’ chemistry class during junior year — and be roommates in Atlanta after graduating from Macon State in two years.

Rogea Gaymon of Bonaire gazed with pride Saturday at her daughter, the graduate, her first-born, Alaysia Permaul.

Permaul said she transferred to Houston County during her junior year from a smaller, private Christian school.

“We knew that because she was an academic scholar, we had to give her that exposure,” Gaymon said. “Her experience here was wonderful. I cried today. I couldn’t be more proud.”

Northside High has a reputation in Middle Georgia for having spectacular school spirit — and the graduates made sure to honor that distinction during their commencement.

Trace Deighan, the valedictorian, and Johnny Fells, the salutatorian, gave an artful and reflective presentation of memories — including two state football championships for the Eagles — shared by the students, dating back to their freshman year.

“My time spent among you incredible individuals has made me a better person, student and friend,” said Munda, who will be attending the University of Georgia.

Northside principal Mark Scott, who also is a first-year principal in Houston County, said the event marked a high point for him.

“It feels good to have my first graduation. I’ve gone through a lot of firsts this year and this is the best one yet,” he said.

Wells, who will attend Columbia University, said he looks forward to attending the alma mater of Barack Obama. “For me, politics is one of my stronger passions. It’s going to be an awesome experience,” he said. “But right now, I’m kind of speechless. I’m just accepting the moment.”

To contact writer Ashley Tusan Joyner, call 744-4347.