Cleveland High School began a program Thursday night which school officials hope will become an annual event.
First-year Director of Schools Dr. Martin Ringstaff brought the program with him from Virginia.
Cleveland High School’s 16 Distinguished Graduates, all who have maintained a 4.0 grade point average at this point in their senior year, were recognized at a Banquet at the Museum Center at Five point.
The guest speaker was Lee University president Dr. Paul Conn. Also participating in the program were Cleveland High principal Autumn O’Bryan, Dr. Ringstaff, and the school system’s public relations supervisor Doug Moore.
In addition to being recognized, each of the seniors wrote a paper about a teacher (educator) who has had the most influence in their lives. They read their papers and then presented a laminated copy to the teacher. Each student and teacher received a special award.
“These students are incredibly bright,” Cleveland High’s top administrator told her top students at the start of the night. “I also see their parents, friends, teachers, pastors and others,” she added.
“I’m proud of all these students and their integrity. I can’t wait to see what changes they will make in the world,” O’Bryan continued.
Dr. Conn began his talk by saying, “If you liked high school, then you’re going to love college. Some of you are coming to Lee, and I’m thrilled.”
Two seniors, Cody Couture and Elizabeth Coyle, were unable to attend the banquet because they were away visiting colleges.
Two Cleveland High male athletes named coaches as their outstanding mentors. Football quarterback Chad Voytik, who has signed to play at the University of Pittsburgh, selected Cleveland Middle School coach and faculty member Donnie Yates. Caleb Hiddleson, who played some basketball for the Raiders, picked Cleveland boys basketball coach Jason McCowan.
The teachers recognized come from a varied list of subjects.
The student-teacher recognition included Franklin Odom by Couture and Renny Wittenbarger by Coyle.
Teacher Frank Lear was selected as the favorite of two seniors, Arina Kim and Aimee Murray.
Other student-teacher connections included Becky Han and teacher Athena Davis, Hannah Kalb and Kelly Owens, Alex Klibisq and Darlene Odom, Megan Ownbey and Eric Phillips, Sara Anne Ownbey and Wanda Dent, Erik Rutledge and Franklin Odom, Whitney Stephenson and Ruth James, Tiffany Summers and Cyndi Summers, Andrea Tipton and Jeannie Queruo, Courtney Whitlock and Jannuth Carroll
“It’s a great day to be a Raider,” said Dr. Ringstaff as he introduced school board members Tom Cloud, Peggy Pesterfield, Dawn Robinson, Richard Shaw. Dr. Murl Dirksen, and George Meacham. Board member Steve Morgan was unable to attend.
“We’re striving to be the best we can be, and we have great teachers,” said Dr. Ringstaff. “I’m proud of all our students, not just these 16. Our students achieve because of these great teachers.”
“I know this is a big time of the year, but I’m wondering why I’m here?” Dr. Conn said. “Dr. Ringstaff called and asked me if I believed in free speech. When I responded ‘yes,’ he said he wanted me to give one! Students, I’m very sorry they imposed me on you”
“I’m like a corpse at a funeral,” Dr. Conn continued. “You have to have one, but you don’t expect it to say much.”
“College is a sweet spot in your life,” Dr. Conn added, “Although there will be more work in college, you need to squeeze all you can out of high school. You need to enjoy every sliver.
“College will be all the joy of high school, without all the pesky parental involvement,” Dr. said to the delight of the students. “What you have accomplished in high school is significant, but we (educators and parents) have some skin in the game. There’ll be some people here you’ll miss (when you go off to college).”
Dr. Conn told the seniors they have the ears, taste buds and fingers to explore the world of education.
“Don’t settle for what comes easy to you, whatever college you attend,” Dr. Conn said, “Education doesn’t get you there, it’s only a aperture. Dream your dreams and add them to education. At some point in life, you have to flip down the channel changer.”
The Lee University president challenged the soon-to-be graduates to “throw your cap over the wall (to see what’s on the other side). Then, come home.”
“Life is like a baseball game,” Dr. Conn said in closing. “You go out and touch first, second and third base ... then you come home — to family, friends, Cleveland and the people who knew you, shaped you and loved you.”