PILOT MOUNTAIN — Graduation is often a time of tears as students prepare to separate from long-time friends and parents see their children take a big step toward independence.
But few ceremonies could match the emotional impact of East Surry’s graduation, capped by posthumous honors for two students lost along the journey.
After each member of the Class of 2016 received a diploma, East Surry staff brought forth the parents of Gage Edwards and Jacob Pettitt and presented them with diplomas
“I know that Jacob and Gage will live in our hearts forever,” said Mollie Davis, student body president.
In this group’s sophomore year, Jacob Pettitt, a JV soccer player, was injured in a car accident and lingered in the hospital for several days before succumbing to brain injuries.
Then came an improbable run of sports greatness in three different sports. The baseball, volleyball and soccer teams all reached the state championship level and earned silver. Members of the soccer team mentioned Jacob’s name and the father of Antonio Mata Jr. (who died of a brain tumor) as inspiring their run.
Just two months later, however, tragedy struck another student-athlete. On Jan. 31, 2015, Gage Edwards died in a car accident on the way to an East Surry basketball game.
At the end of graduation, the school brought forward Gage’s mom, Nikki Cline, and the Pettitt family to be honored along with their sons’ classmates.
This graduating class has represented East Surry very well, from the gymnasium to the athletic fields to JROTC and band competitions, said principal Lorrie Sawyers. She said she was proud of the students for all that they accomplished.
Much has changed in the world over the past four years and the 720 days of high school, said Katie Porter, senior class president.
When this class started as freshmen, Porter said, “Call Me Maybe” was one of the most popular songs, Honey Boo Boo was premiering on television, Duck Dynasty was rising in popularity, no one knew what Snapchat was yet, and the smart phone everyone wanted was the iPhone 4S.
A lot changed for the students themselves, too.
“We walked in as fresh-faced children and leave as adults with a lot of responsibilities,” said Davis.
Understanding all that the graduates have learned goes beyond their grades and test scores, the student body president said. Four years at East Surry gave them the foundations they need such as skills, desire and an open mind.
“Many of us will be going to college,” she said, while others have excellent careers in mind and will be making those happen shortly.
“Our parents and families have consistently loved and supported us,” Davis said. “You have helped us channel our emotions into the people we are today.”
She gave thanks to the teachers who did their best even in those times when school was the last place the students wanted to be.
“I hope the one lesson that we take away from all this is how much better life is when we follow our passion, persevere and trust in God,” said Davis. She concluded with, “I love you all, let’s go be awesome.”
Sawyers capped off the ceremony by pointing out that this graduating class has collected $4 million in scholarships and grants to continue their education.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.