‘We’re family’: Calera Class of 2021 celebrates commencement

By SCOTT MIMS / Staff Writer

CALERA — Honest, personal and heartwarming speeches peppered Calera High School’s Class of 2021 graduation ceremony, which was held at Ricky M. Cairns Stadium the evening of Tuesday, May 25.

Notable was the presence of both the school’s current principal, Chris Myles, and former principal, Branden Vincent, the latter of which was chosen by members of the class to address its 226 graduates.

Vincent, who recently moved to Texas due to family circumstances, took to the stage as the final speaker of the evening.

“At the core of it all, we’re family, and we’ve been family for quite some time,” Vincent said. “The years we’ve had has been a great journey, and it’s amazing to see the outstanding men and women you’ve become today.”

Vincent was candid with his audience and said his decision to move was a hard decision that he initially fought. He also wished to clear up a few things that arose during his tenure as the school’s principal:

“I do not know why you could not wear sweatpants, tights and things of that nature. It never impacted learning, and if it were up to me, I would have let you do it,” he said.

On a more serious note, Vincent advised the graduates to be deliberate about how they make use of their time.

“Where you put your time is where you put your future. If you decide you’re going to play five hours a day of Call of Duty, you’re going to get pretty good at it. You’ll probably become the best,” he said. “If you put five hours a day into TikTok, you probably will manage TikTok better than anybody you have ever known, but if you put that stuff into professional and personal growth, you will be the best at whatever you select to do. Work on mastering your craft, figure it out and commit to it.”

Following the speech, the students moved their tassels and celebrated their graduation becoming official.

Student Valedictorian Dylan Weiss also spoke, addressing both personal difficulties and those shared by the entire class. He talked about going through three principals in four years. He also addressed the unexpected loss of his aunt last July.

“This first time dealing with loss in my entire life left me questioning ‘Why me, why now?’ and it left me…thinking about the should-haves and not getting to spend time with her, and I took her for granted,” Weiss said. “I have to live with this and learn from this mistake. I finally began to move past her passing, then in March my grandmother passed away, unexpectedly again.”

Weiss said he realized that he had become so focused on living in the future, he forgot to live in the present. He then shared a word of advice:

“Live today as if it could be your last. Pick up your phone when family calls. Check up on friends and family when you have the chance. Do not live today with a chance of tomorrow presenting regret,” he said. “I challenge everyone here to live life to the fullest and make every day count. Remember, you cannot change the past but you can create your future.”

Class of 2014 graduate Taylor Ellison, a graduate of the University of Alabama and a nurse, spoke of losing a coworker to the tragic actions of a reckless driver in Birmingham earlier this year.

She also spoke of a recent patient, a young man who made a choice to work out at the gym against his doctor’s recommendation knowing he had a heart defect. The decision almost cost him his life.

“Tragedy pays no respect to age, race or stage of life,” Ellison said. “One choice can lead into a ripple effect to where you are today. Don’t be that person without a plan or making poor choices.”

Principal Chris Myles shared that to date, the senior class had earned more than $4 million in scholarships. He commended the class for their accomplishments in an unusually difficult year.

“Your class has had to overcome so many obstacles over the last year and a half of your academic careers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, you have done so with respect, dignity and a never-give-up attitude. Even though you faced difficult and uncertain times, you were still able to succeed,” Myles said.

Salutatorian McChesney Turner’s speech was also honest, and she indicated that learning to love oneself is just as important as loving others.

“You have to love yourself as best you can. Every year can be a golden year if you just have love and kindness in your heart,” she said.

Photos available at Shelbycountyphotos.com.