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‘Go into the world and do good’

Franklin High School graduates 66 students

Franklin High School’s Class of 2021, which demonstrated adaptability and resilience forged in the crucible of a global pandemic, graduated June 4 as class members and administrators ushered it into the next phase of life with speeches stressing the importance of being kind and striving for excellence.

The graduating class included 66 people who were joined by a somewhat limited crowd of family, friends, teachers and administrators in Camp Community College’s Workforce Development Center.

For a school year in which change and adaptation were primary features, it was only fitting that the venue for Franklin High School’s Commencement Exercises changed at noon June 4 from Armory Field to the Workforce Development Center due to concerns about inclement weather, forcing the Class of 2021 to adapt once more.

Valedictorian Andrea Barnes opened her speech by noting that the past year was unique.

“It was full of trials and tribulations that threatened our idea of graduation, and no, I’m not just talking about the shortage of gas or toilet paper,” she said. “Contrary to popular belief, learning how to learn through a computer is not as easy as it sounds — kind of felt like my nana when she first got her iPhone.

“Nonetheless, we manage to sit here before you today, in the middle of a pandemic, as graduates of the Class of 2021.”

She noted that when thinking about success, there are usually three big pieces that ultimately determine its measure — where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re headed.

“So each and every one of us began as tiny sprouts within the soil of our homes — that’s where we first begin to learn,” she said. 

Barnes said her mother is a teacher.

“Every year around report card time, she’d get so excited to see how my sisters and I did,” Barnes said, noting her mom would open up each card, and the room would grow silent as she read over the letters.

Barnes said she always thought her mother was checking for certain letter grades that would largely end up shaping her reaction to her daughters’ performances.

But after she was done looking at the report cards, she would ask simple, direct questions. One was, “Did you do your best?”

Barnes then shared another key question.

“‘Are you happy with the work that you’ve done?’” Barnes recalled. “That question didn’t bother me until about sixth grade. Am I happy with the work that I’ve done? I realized that my mother never cared about what happened on the report card or even what we did but rather how we felt about our own work.

“That also really changed my perception on not only school but life in general,” she said. “Whether we realize it or not, accept it or not, the lessons we learn from our parents or parental figures will be with us wherever we choose to go in life.”

Barnes acknowledged the difficulties of adult life.

“The responsibility and accountability required to succeed as an independent individual is absolutely terrifying,” she said, later noting that as she pondered the challenges, she began to doubt her purpose. “And I became anxious for the future, wondering if I could truly be the change I wish to see in this world.

“I’m still scared,” she continued. “I was scared to get up here and do this speech. But that’s the thing about change — it’s scary sometimes. We get so caught up in making the perfect plan to reach our goals, but I’ve learned that nothing ever goes according to plan, just accordingly. There’s no way to tell tomorrow, it’s not even promised. All we can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”

She noted that she thinks it has always been important to humans to achieve something in this life, to make it, to succeed, to have tangible evidence that they were here and that they did well, that they made their parents proud and impressed their teachers, coaches, directors and themselves.

“And while these things are important, I’d like to share with you a quote that summarizes what truly matters moving forward: ‘Go into the world and do well, but more importantly, go into the world and do good,’” she said. 

Toward the very end of her speech, she emphasized the importance of being kind.

“Life will always be full of those tangible things that are bigger, better, greater, but ask yourself this question: Which will speak louder when you leave this earth — what you had or who you were?” she said. 

With these thoughts fresh in mind, Barnes closed by saying, “To the Class of 2021, whatever you do, do it with your entire being.”

Samuel Lyons delivered a salutatorian address infused by gratitude and a desire that he and his classmates not settle for just getting by in life.

He highlighted the support of family, teachers, mentors and coaches.

“I have so many people throughout this journey who supported me that I could read from a list 10 minutes long, but I just want you all to know that I remember your support, and I appreciate it greatly, and on behalf of my class, I just want to say, ‘Thank you,’” he said.

Then he turned his attention to his fellow graduates.

“I want you to know that no matter where we go or what we do, there are always challenges we must face,” he said. “I want to encourage us to meet those challenges boldly and with fortitude, never backing down from them.

“It’s not enough to simply try to get by in life,” he continued. “That does not make the world move forward. We need to pursue our goals and passions and excel in everything we do. Strive for excellence in every task, large or small.”

Pointing out that a new chapter is about to be written in the lives of those comprising the Class of 2021, Lyons said, “Let’s make it the best one yet and prove everyone who supported us in our journey how right they were and leave those who doubted us amazed.”

Giving the senior address was senior Kayla Felts, who acknowledged that the Class of 2021 had faced a lot of adversity in the last year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Although the pandemic has disrupted our lives in many negative ways, it also made us more appreciative, adaptable and resilient,” she said. “We have proven to be strong and determined, which is how we made it here tonight.”

She thanked teachers and parents for helping make it all possible and then directly thanked Franklin High School Principal Travis Felts, her father.

“Finally, I want to personally thank my father, Mr. Felts, for pushing us to be our very best,” she said. “He is my role model and hero because he works countless hours to make sure that the students of Franklin High School are provided with the best opportunities to make us successful in every aspect of life.”

She asked for a round of applause for her dad, and an enthusiastic one followed.

Principal Felts spoke briefly at the end of the commencement exercises just before the declaration of graduation.

“One of the lessons we have hopefully learned from our COVID experience is to look at the bright side of challenging situations and to not take anything for granted,” he said. “As an example, prior to COVID, it was just assumed that every year in June, we would come together as a school and community to celebrate graduation in person.”

He noted how there were many COVID-19 measures students, family and friends went through to be there for the ceremony June 4 and reminded everyone that such a gathering was not possible the year prior.

“Whenever you are faced with challenging situations in life — and trust me there will be plenty — remember the lessons we learned from COVID,” he said. “You have definitely learned how to adjust and adapt. Students and teachers were forced into virtual education with no warning or time to prepare. It was not a perfect transition, but I think we did a pretty good job at Franklin High School, if I do say so myself, practically turning into a virtual school overnight.”

He later added that while online learning may be the way of the future and definitely has its place, “nothing compares to students and teachers working together, forming relationships and building a community at school.”

He concluded by thanking the graduates and their families for making the unusual 2020-21 school year a successful one.

In her remarks, Amy Phillips, chairperson of the FCPS School Board, praised Class of 2021 members for being good, well-rounded individuals.

“While I do encourage you to strive to gather all the knowledge available and be as successful as you can, I ask that you never lose sight of your kindness or humanity in the process,” she said.

Also a Franklin alum, Phillips chose to wear her yellow graduation gown from 28 years prior.

“Today, I donned that same gown I did 28 years ago to show you that I am just as proud of each and every one of you as I am of my Class of ’93,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of FCPS Superintendent Dr. Tamara Sterling, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Natalie Halloran addressed the Class of 2021’s transition into the next phase of life.

“For most of you, that may include going into the workforce, joining one of the armed forces of the military or perhaps enrolling in an institution of higher education,” she said. “Just remember that whatever path you choose, always take the initiative to strive for excellence and know that at times there may be obstacles and needed adjustments.

“Overall, Franklin City Public Schools feel assured that we have prepared you to be successful along the way.”

Franklin High School’s Class of 2021 had 26 honor graduates that were recognized during the commencement exercises.

Additionally, 21 graduates were offered scholarships, and Lead School Counselor Ale Massenburg read each scholarship aloud, including its dollar value. This list of graduates was headlined by Lyons, who Massenburg saved for last. She read off 35 scholarships that Lyons has earned, and they are worth a combined $1.78 million.

Dr. Tara Atkins-Brady, of Paul D. Camp Community College, presented medallions to six members of Franklin’s Class of 2021 who took advantage of Camp’s dual enrollment program, in partnership with Franklin City Public Schools, and earned both a general education certificate and an Associate of Arts and Science general studies degree while also earning their high school diploma.

These six students, who graduated from Camp with honors, were Jahmajae Bynum, Kayla Felts, Elizabeth Granger, Jenae’ Evans, Richard Meades and Ziaya Smith.

Along with those six individuals, two other students, Lyons and Darius Eley, also earned the Virginia General Education Passport, which consists of five college courses and a total of 16 credit hours that are guaranteed to transfer to any public, four-year college or university in Virginia.

“I look forward to next year’s Franklin High School graduation when we anticipate even more students will be recognized for earning an associate degree, certificate and passport from Camp Community College,” Atkins-Brady said.

Amid the presentation of high school diplomas, Principal Felts presented an honorary diploma to the family/representative of the late Jewell Lamont Britt, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 12. The Class of 2021 stood in his honor during the presentation.