ATHENS BOROUGH – “Father, I pray your blessing upon them as they leave here. I pray that you would guide their footsteps and let them be a light in this dark world.”

That concluded the prayer that North Rome Christian School Administrator Randy Reddinger offered up Saturday after the school''s five newest high school graduates turned their tassels on the Greater Valley Assembly of God stage, signifying the completion of their high school journey.

The ceremony came with plenty of shared memories, both from speakers and a slide show near the end, as well as encouraging scripture and optimism for the future.

During her valedictorian's message to the class, Olivia Lykens reflected on the changes that COVID-19 brought to the end of their school year.

“I never would have imagined the last few pages in this chapter to occur like they did. I would give

anything for one more homeroom, talking about the intense basketball games the night before, or the crazy dream I had that night, that I just had to tell everyone about. I'll especially miss the morning announcements, and seeing who drew the shortest straw, being forced to talk over the loudspeaker to the 20 high schoolers, anxiously awaiting to hear our groggy morning speech,” Lykens said. “We have missed out on a lot these last few months of our senior year, but the memories we have already made with one another will last a lifetime.”

As she looked back, Lykens reflected on the curiosity and willingness to learn new things in elementary school, the awkwardness of middle school, the competitive nature of the graduating class, and the senioritis that set in at the beginning of ninth grade.

“We talked about how we couldn't wait to graduate and move on with the rest of our lives,” she said. “Well guys, today is the day.”

With just five students making up the class of 2020, Lykens said her peers have become more like family through the ups and downs, and through spending eight hours a day, five days a week with each other during the school year.

“The memories we have together as a class are so unique and special because there were only five of us,” she said. “I mean, what other senior class can fit into one car?”

Noah Bennett added during the invocation that although the class members have had their differences, they've also had each others backs when the day was done.

“I would like to thank my classmates for not being just my friends, but for being my brothers and sisters in Christ,” Bennett said.

In his welcoming address, Adam Gorsline shared that although the pandemic has made things frustrating for both students and teachers who had to transition to remote learning, he has continually been brought back to Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose.”

“Even among the confusion, frustration and separation, there is a plan and there is a purpose,” he explained. “Although it may not be evident in the moment, we will see it – just as we are able to gather here today.”

Students speaking during Saturday's commencement acknowledged the efforts of school officials for making the in-person graduation possible, even when the initial socially-distanced event planned for outside of the school had to be moved indoors due to the threat of rain.

After reading the class scripture, Ephesians 2:10, Evan Ely noted, “There's a universal truth we all know we have to face. Whether we want to accept it or not, eventually everything comes to an end” – and added that he's never been a big fan of endings. But as they move from their time in high school, he said there are those whose impact has helped shape his classmates into who they are today. Because of that, these people will always be with the class of 2020 no matter what – along with God.

“We need to keep on doing good and trusting him,” Ely said. “Don't grow weary.”

Long-time teacher James Wells inspired the students that as they begin on their life's race, to “finish strong and finish well.”

Wells provided the example of Olympic gold medal runner Eric Liddel of Scotland who, when questioned about his facing ability, said he runs as fast as he can the first half of the race, and then runs faster with the help of Christ. He also noted the story of Peter from the Bible who went from denying Christ three times to turning 3,000 people to Christ with his first preaching. He also shared his own example of running 10 miles with two sprained, taped up ankles.

“As I began the 10 miles my ankles were sore and stiff,” he explained. “As time went on my body loosened up and I got stronger, and finished the 10 miles feeling great. I want to finish my race here on Earth the same way – strong and well. In many ways, you are just starting your own race. You will encounter obstacles, frustrations, disappointments, challenges, will have to make tough decisions, deal with people who disagree with you or just plain don't like you, or question your faith and your walk with God. May God enable each of you to run your life's race and finish strong and finish well.”

As part of Saturday's commencement, Cari McCarty presented teacher Levetta Comstock with a flower basket on behalf of her classmates while recognizing the example she set as a woman of Christ and the interest she took in their lives, even amidst challenging times.

“Every morning in homeroom, she was always asking us how our day was, what we did the night before, how our game was. It just meant so much to me and the rest of us that she always cared, even when we were miles apart in our own homes and meeting online, Mrs. Comstock never failed to show that she cared. Mrs. Comstock has been the glue that has kept our class together and I don't know if we would all be here today without her.”

To all teachers and faculty, Bennett said, “Thank you … for investing in our lives in ways that we will never know or understand. You all have implanted wisdom and sound Christian role models to look up to.”

Instead of saying goodbye, Ely said he'd rather say hello to the future.

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