More than 440 graduate from THS

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

BIRMINGHAM – Before he began handing out diplomas to the hundreds of soon-to-be graduates seated in UAB’s Bartow Arena on May 23, Thompson High School Principal Dr. Wesley Hester took a moment to note the significance of the empty seat on the front row of seniors.

Draped in a white cloth, the chair served as a memory to someone who was tragically taken before she experienced the joy of walking across the stage to obtain her high school diploma. In February 2016, 16-year-old Elaine Roberts died after a several-month battle with a rare and aggressive form of cancer.

Because Elaine did not make it to her graduation, her mother, Laura, accepted Elaine’s honorary THS diploma on her behalf.

“She is with us here tonight,” Hester said of Elaine.

The honorary diploma presentation served as key moment in an emotional graduation ceremony for the 441-member THS class of 2017.

Several days before the graduation ceremony, the school announced the class of 2017 had set a new school record when it secured about $11.8 million in college scholarships.

“That is more than double the scholarship total from four years ago, when Alabaster City Schools formed,” Alabaster School Board President Adam Moseley told the graduates. “That is due to your hard work and perseverance.”

The graduation ceremony featured the presentation of colors by the THS Junior ROTC, the Pledge of Allegiance led by cadet Lt. Col. Kevin Hutcheson, the National Anthem sung by the THS Madrigals, an invocation by Luke Nichols and a performance of “For Good” by the THS Madrigals. During the diploma-presentation portion of the ceremony, graduate Caleb Coffman was surprised by his sister, who returned from active duty to attend the event.

Alabaster Mayor Marty Handlon, Moseley and ACS Superintendent Dr. Wayne Vickers addressed the graduates, and Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill provided the keynote address.

“Graduates, we made it, even through all the challenges we may have faced,” said Class President Spencer Humphrey. “Continue to strive for better every day. Go out and do great things. Be great. Be a Warrior.”

Valedictorian Amari Graber encouraged her classmates to strive to live a life in service to others.

“I want us to be more than leaders. I want us to be servants,” Graber said. “It doesn’t matter what you are willing to die for if you aren’t willing to live for it. And we truly live by serving.”

Merrill expressed his condolences to the graduates for having to deal with the death of one of their classmates.

“You are going to have challenges and interruptions and tragedies,” Merrill said. “Your class is different from any other class I’ve spoken to because you have experienced tragedy in the loss of Elaine Roberts.

“And you will continue to face challenges,” Merrill added. “How you respond to those challenges says more about you than it does the obstacles or the people who present them.”