‘Finding the good’: Oak Mountain class of 2021 graduates, sets sights on next phase of life

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

NORTH SHELBY – From the start of the alphabet to the end, Oak Mountain’s class of 2021 left its mark in history during the final year on campus.

Starting with valedictorian Peter Anella, who created a charity to honor his late father, and ending with Noah Young, who was the MVP of the Final Four after helping bring home the school’s first basketball title, each of the school’s 398 graduates left their mark on a special final year as an Eagle.

And on Wednesday, May 26, each one walked across the stage at Heardmont Park to officially cap off one of the more memorable years of their lives during Oak Mountain’s graduation ceremony.

“We have seen you grow and mature, we have been involved in your academic endeavors, we have tried to motivate when needed and we have cared deeply every day,” said principal Dr. Kristi Sayers. “Tonight, we applaud your accomplishments. We hope we have played a small part in preparing you for the road of tomorrow. We look forward to your continued success. We are honored to have been in this chapter of your lives, you will always be remembered fondly.”

This year’s senior class will see 1 percent join the military, 12 percent enter work force or take a gap year and 87 percent attend either two-year or four-year university, while 68 students scored 30 or above on the ACT.

Sayers also noted, that at the May 7 deadline, the class of 2021 had been offered scholarships and awards totaling $14,273,872.

That all came during one of the most trying years in history, making the 2021 senior class one of the most unique to ever walk the halls at OMHS.

“I was tempted to start my speech talking about back in the day when I was young and had to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow,” said assistant principal Sandy Evers, whose son was a part of the graduating class. “But then I realized I was talking to a group of students who had an even better story. I would be talking to a group of students who had to endure a year and a half of wearing a mask to a school every day and sit 6 feet apart from everyone.”

And this year’s group of graduates dealt with a lot more than just a pandemic after a tornado ravaged the community two months ago, leaving many without homes.

But through it all, they persevered and got through it together with the help of each other and their community.

“With all of these setbacks and hardships, these resilient, gritty, talented and downright amazing students thrived and are now sitting in front of us in this stadium tonight getting ready to turn their tassels,” Evers said. “They looked for the good in all situations and found it.”

And that was the focus of Evers coming into the year as the ninth grade principal and assistant principal at the school.

As the guest speaker at the commencement ceremony, she shared that coming into the 2020-2021 school year, she set the goal of finding the good in every moment, but she admittedly worried if that would be possible.

“I thought it might be hard to find good during a pandemic school year, but it was not hard. It was not hard at all. Why? Because these students, these seniors kept the good coming every single day,” Evers said. “The class of 2021 was a part of history. They found a way.”

Evers noted that this year’s graduates found ways to participate in band events, an outdoor show choir event, virtual scholars bowl competitions and remote debate tournaments, while they accomplished tall tasks during the pandemic through students starting fundraising organizations, the football team advancing past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in five years and the girls soccer and boys basketball teams winning state championships.

“The good was everywhere, and it was because of our students, our seniors, the young people sitting here in these chairs never gave up,” Evers said. “Even in the hard times, the personal sadness, they helped a friend, encouraged a neighbor or found a way. I commend you, I applaud you and I praise each one of you for finishing.”

Making it through a trying final year led to valedictorian Peter Anella reminiscing on the life lessons learned during each year of high school.

“For me, these four years have totally changed who I am as a person and created a new version of myself that I am pleased with,” Anella said. “While reminiscing on this transformation, I realized each year gave me a very important life lesson.”

His lessons included not thinking what people think, choosing to the good instead of the bad, never give up in going after what you want in life and understand life is short.

“This is an exciting time in our lives, we are 18 and have so much ahead of us,” he said. “Every door is open and our futures can be whatever we want them to be. As we close this chapter of our lives, we open a brand new one and I wish you all the best of luck.”

Salutatorian Veronica Kloss added to that by making the entire class feel confident in doing whatever they want.

She said her and Anella were being honored for reaching a certain number, but that number doesn’t mean anything.

“That number doesn’t tell the whole story of any of us. That number doesn’t tell the number of Peter’s business or the charity he started to honor his dad. That number doesn’t tell story of me being a nine-star thespian or my obsessive love of Scooby Doo,” Kloss said. “It doesn’t tell the story of performing in the homecoming week talent show, or having a banana party in your Spanish class, or practicing for the musical, or study sessions at Panera, or conversations you had with your favorite teachers, or long bus rides home from competitions or any of your favorite memories from high school that you’ll actually want to look back on.”

She said all of those aspects, or memories, of high school are what has shaped them and prepared them for life’s next steps.

“We survived a global pandemic, immense amount of stress, societal pressures, the feeling of losing control of the world around you and high school,” she said. “I know each and every one of us is capable of success, and I encourage you to figure out your definition of success as you enter this next phase.”

Now, the Oak Mountain graduating class of 2021 is off to tackle the real world, and Evers is betting on them to be successful.

“To my Oak Mountain High School senior class of 2021, if there was ever a vote to pick a class that is most prepared for their next journey or chapter in life, I pick you,” she said. “Once an Eagle, always an Eagle. You may now officially soar.”

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.