Built by character: Chelsea class of 2023 celebrated at graduation ceremony

Published 8:48 am Wednesday, May 24, 2023

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

HOMEWOOD – Taking the stage one by one inside Samford University’s Pete Hanna Center, the Chelsea High School class of 2023 was celebrated was celebrated at a special commencement ceremony on Tuesday, May 23, bringing together four memorable years into one night.

One memory, however, stuck out more than others, as each speaker who took the stage recalled one specific moment during their senior year—beating rival Oak Mountain High School at their stadium.

For Emma Grace Dunavant, one of this year’s two salutatorians, that was one of many “lasts” that stuck out to her during her senior year.

“I remember my freshman orientation; I was warned a hundred times that these next four years are going to fly by, and, at the time, I didn’t believe a word of that,” she said during her speech. “Four years seemed like a lifetime away, and I didn’t realize until this year just how right all of their warnings were. It feels like not too long ago, we were all freshman, watching the class of 2020 experience all of their last days. It all seemed so far away at the time. But now we’ve had our own series of lasts. The last time saying the pledge, the last time eating in the cafeteria, the last time driving to school as a student and the last time walking into school as a student. But, most importantly, our last football game against Oak Mountain, which if anyone here somehow doesn’t know, we won.”

Student Government President and the school’s other salutatorian, Max Scroggins shared a similar sentiment, adding that the past four years have created moments the class of 2023 can hold onto forever.

“Today, we honor the memories we have made at Chelsea High School, from our first homecoming dance, to traveling to Jacksonville State for the girls basketball team, all the way to beating Oak Mountain our senior year,” Scroggins said. “These are memories we hold onto forever, stories we tell our kids and even our kids’ kids.”

Those were just a few of the special memories created by this year’s senior class that started with the interruption of COVID-19 their freshman year and ended at Samford University on May 23 with a class that had earned $9.5 million in scholarship money.

“The last four years have been nothing short of a whirlwind,” valedictorian Ella Grace Hillman said. “Two rainy proms, online school and a pandemic later, I’d like to think that we’ve made the best of some difficult circumstances. In fact, I think our class is unique in its commitment to taking what we have and making it special. We have made our high school experience a time to cherish and enjoy long after it is over. As we move on to new places, I hope that each and every one of you will continue to find a way to make each place and moment special in your own way, like you’ve consistently done throughout the last four years.”

Hillman shared two quotes from one of the most popular musicians in the world right now—Taylor Swift.

She used the lyrics “Everything you lose is a step you take” and “It’s hard not to find it all a little bittersweet” to help relay her messages to the class of 2023.

“As much as stress, anxiety and discouragement have plagued many of us in high school, every difficult moment has only served to make us more resilient, empathetic and adaptable,” Hillman said. “Every step, or misstep, has served as a pivotal moment in which we had to choose whether to make the right choice or wrong choice, even though we didn’t always know what the right choice was. I sincerely hope as you continue to face difficult decisions, you continue to make the right choice no matter how difficult it may be.”

She added that it is her wish that each member of the class will continue to re-invent themselves throughout live, with each time making them a little bit more wise, brave and strong, while adding not to forget their roots.

“After today, our lives will change drastically,” Hillman said. “That does not mean we will lose the memories and home that Chelsea holds. With every good and bad moment, Chelsea will always be a part of us and so will this class.” 

She also thanked the administration, teachers, staff, family and others who helped not only her but her classmates reach success.

That came just before Chelsea High School Principal Dr. Brandon Turner took to the podium in front of the arena to honor the seniors and share his challenge for them.

“I always count this as a special experience, really for our entire school, because it truly represents the culmination of work, relationships, achievement and all other accomplishments of our senior class,” Turner said. “I want to issue a challenge to you as you go forth. I want to talk about a word you’ve heard a lot of time as you’ve been in Chelsea High School, and that’s character. Every morning on our announcements, you hear our stated values of learning, service and character.”

Turner said external things such as fame, popularity and money will fade quickly, but character is what will help the class of 2023 persevere moving forward, using the definition of character as defined by author Clinton Tolbert.

“He defined character as our life on display, striving constantly to be our best self, to increase the quality of your own life and as you work in service for others,” Turner said. “It’s that definition that I tend to think of most, because it speaks to the constant effort we have to put in in order to do our best, to do the right thing, to work in service of others, to make positive and healthy decisions and to do these things not only in the privacy of our own thoughts and when no one is looking, but when we’re out in front of others, when we’re on full display.”

Turner said it’s about how you react not only when things are going well, but also when life throws you a curveball.

“It’s through these times that character provides strength,” he said. “It helps us to endure and not only at a base level, but in such a way, that even in hard times, we can overcome the obstacles and become an inspiration and source of strength for those around you. That’s the challenge I have for you.”