Cleveland High School’s Graduates of Distinction honored the teachers who shaped them into the 4.0 scholars they are Tuesday night at an annual banquet that hailed the achievements of both groups.
Emily Barton, assistant commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, delivered the keynote address.
She reminded students and teachers alike of the opportunities provided for everyone through education.
The Yale graduate said she benefited from her education, and believes the Cleveland High Students will, too.
“You will carry that with you wherever you go,” Barton said. “You will carry the blessings of it, and I also hope you will carry the mission of extending that education to others.”
The seniors were charged with four suggestions:
- Pick a problem, and use your life to find a solution.
- Run toward what scares you.
“The real stretch in life comes from the things you do that are really hard, that you don’t know if you are going to be able to succeed in doing,” Barton said. “I would encourage you in your academic pursuits, in your extracurricular pursuits and your profession, run toward what scares you and never underestimate yourself.”
- Demand evidence.
Barton reminded the seniors today’s world is fueled with the opinions of others. She said opinions matter, but evidence matters more. The students were urged to challenge the opinions of others and demand evidence.
- Find some time to hang out with your inner slacker.
“It’s good for your soul,” Barton laughed. “It is very hard to do when you are haunted by the desire to achieve, but that inner slacker has something to teach you, too.”
She ended her presentation with a plea for students to consider a field in education.
Barton pointed toward the students’ own experiences with teachers as support for her appeal.
“Teachers change lives. We need all of the best graduates of our generation to join our profession if this is going to be a country that is fair, free and strong,” she said. “We need you to think about teaching.”
Thirteen students then had the opportunity to highlight one teacher who made an impact in their education and life.
Kimsey Bell began with an emphatic thank-you to Valerie Capps.
He said teaching is Capps’ No. 1 priority.
“She serves her students by creating a classroom environment that is free from stress. I witnessed her use creative methods to ensure struggling students are successful,” Bell said. “... Someone said that teaching is the profession that teaches all other professions. Time will surely reveal the positive impact Ms. Capps has had on her students, and the many professions she will have grown.”
Austin Byerly followed Bell with his own shout-out to his fifth-grade teacher Jason Dasher.
Byerly shared how excited he was to not only be on the top floor of the school as a fifth-grade student, but also to have a male teacher. Dasher greeted him with a firm handshake his first day of school. He became Byerly’s first male role model outside of his family.
“Ever since fifth grade, Mr. Dasher and I have kept in contact with each other. He has inspired me to continue pursuing my dreams,” Byerly said. “I’m very thankful I had Mr. Dasher as a teacher and that I still have him as a friend.”
Oksana Ferenchuk attributed a portion of her success to former Blythe-Bower Elementary Principal Ron Hill. She explained it could have gone differently for her because she was an immigrant student.
“I hear plenty of statistics and reports of immigrant students doing poor in schoolwork and having no motivation to further their education or even finish it. This has always baffled me, but over time I have come to the conclusion that the reason I am where I am is because of the teachers in my life, especially in the beginning,” Ferenchuk said. “Mr. Hill’s everyday simple, kind greeting to all of his students made all the difference in the culture ... to me. It made me realize the benefits of education are available to everyone, despite their ethnic background.”
Kevin Harricharran said his second-grade teacher, Melissa Word, believed in him even when he did not believe in himself. Word saw his potential and helped him achieve his first perfect test score. She built him up through social interaction and academic success.
Hannah Holland shared how math teacher Frank Lear continued to challenge her well into her senior year. She originally planned to take an easier math course. Instead, when she received her senior-year schedule, AP Calculus 1 and 2 were on it. It was one of the hardest challenges of her life.
Lear then offered Holland an opportunity to serve as his teacher’s aide. She explained she was able to learn much more about teaching, like how to grade a test with illegible writing, than she ever thought was possible outside of college.
Both Abigail Jones and Julia Leigh Jones thanked Rodney Gipson for pushing them toward success, and for being a great example of how one triumphs over personal struggles.
Shelby Kelley shared with the audience how compassionate, understanding, honest, wise and caring Erin Hattabaugh has been as both her Connections leader and academic teacher.
Ansley McCarley, a self-professed perfectionist, said Jon Souders’ broadcasting courses reminded her to relax.
Nick Melton voluntarily took everyone of Brad Benefield’s classes that he could. Melton said Benefield has a way of widening students’ minds through critical thinking without the gimmicks some believe are necessary to reach the younger generation. He explained how Benefield brought the subject alive with how much he loved the subject.
Connor Mitchell said Lear is not only a good person, but a great teacher. He thoroughly enjoyed Lear’s classes in spite of his initial dread Lear might be an “old, grumpy math teacher.”
David Queen thanked his Little League Baseball coach and middle school history teacher Jack Kidwell for not only pouring into his life, but agreeing to be his first patient when he becomes a doctor.
Madisyn Wendling closed the night out with heartfelt thanks to Kellye Huff. She explained the Cleveland High teacher encouraged her every step of the way as she determined what medical path she wanted to follow. According to Wendling, she could not have chosen a better person to offer advice.