Jackson County schools released a few hundred young people upon the larger world this week as graduation ceremonies took place Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
The first was at 10 a.m. Tuesday for graduates of Jackson Alternative School. At 6 p.m. that evening, Adult Education grads took their honors and the Sneads High School class of 2021 marched at 8 p.m. to finish up the first day of ceremonies.
Graceville High School seniors marched at 6 p.m. Thursday and Cottondale High School grads had their ceremony at 8 p.m. that evening.
Friday was packed with graduation events, beginning at 10 a.m. when Hope School grads took their walk to receive their diplomas. Malone School seniors did the same at 6 p.m., and Marianna High School finished the big round of ceremonies at 8 p.m. that evening.
See Wednesday’s edition for photos from the Friday graduations.
All the local classes of 2021 had experienced two big and unprecedented challenges in their last three years together: Hurricane Michael, the only Category 5 storm to ever hit the county, struck in their sophomore years and its aftermath would linger in their lives for a long time to come. The COVID-19 pandemic would affect their junior and senior years, robbing them of the usual physical togetherness they’d known most of their school years and had expected to continue until those drew to a natural end.
And some, like Cottondale and Sneads high schools, had known the tragedy of losing a classmate to death along the way.
At Sneads, a moment of silence for their lost classmate was observed, and a rose was placed in an otherwise empty chair to represent him.
At Cottondale, graduates each placed one white carnation touched with orange in a vase as they took their places at the commencement ceremony. Toward the end, two graduates delivered the vase of flowers to the parents of Timothy Dillon Jones, who had died when they were all seventh-graders together. The parents would also receive an honorary diploma for their son, courtesy of the Jackson County school system, that night.
Valedictorians and salutatorians around the county spoke of how the challenges they and their classmates faced together had shaped them, made them stronger, closer, more resilient, and brought them to a necessary early recognition of hard realities that are often not faced at such a tender age.
But the shadows of those circumstances could not keep out the light of joy as parents and other loved ones gathered to celebrate their milestone with them. The mood was bright with energy and the stands were full.