Shelby County Class of 2024 remembers legacy at graduation

Published 7:57 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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By TYLER RALEY | Special to the Reporter

MONTEVALLO – With school letting out for the summer, it is a time to celebrate for many students. However, that was not the only thing that was celebrated on Tuesday, May 21, at the Shelby County High School graduation ceremony at McChesney Center.

The night was also an enlightening remembrance of the legacy that the Class of 2024 is leaving in the hallways of a place that they will remember forever.

Following the choir’s singing of “Alleluia” and an invocation by Andy Shelton, student minister at First Baptist Church, Miss SCHS and Salutatorian Adelynn Binkerd addressed the crowd and gave thanks to all of those who helped the students grow.

She thought back on how the senior class entered high school four years ago at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, having been split into school groups by last names A through J and K through Z, wearing masks all throughout so that they could not see everyone’s full face.

Binkerd reflected on that time deeply, using it to show how much closer the seniors have become since those moments.

“To the Class of ‘24, I am so proud of us,” Binkerd said. “At the senior picnic, the joy that I saw washed over everyone’s faces from just being in each other’s company for one last time is one of the most precious moments that I have ever seen. I hope we never get that joy of being a part of this class for the rest of our lives. It’s sad to see that the moment that we feel closest as a family is the same time that we must part ways, but my mom always told me to find the good, and we will do that tonight as we come together for the last time to celebrate our success.”

SGA Chaplain Anna Smith came forward to offer an inspirational quote about success from the words of Tim Tebow before giving way to Summa Valedictorian Katie McDonald to express her remarks.

McDonald, who had just won the school’s Johnson-Pope Award only moments before, decided to veer away from the traditional speech of remembering the high school experiences and give advice. Instead, she told a story of legacy.

“Back in the 1930s, there was a young man who graduated from high school and couldn’t find a job in his hometown, so  he moved to Miami, Florida, to find work,” McDonald said. “He lived two doors down from a girl that couldn’t stand him because he was from a small country town and she didn’t like that, and after a lot of convincing , she finally decided to give him a chance. They fell in love, and reluctantly, she moved to that small country town with him, and he found a job there.”

She continued to tell the story of how two generations after that couple continued to go to that same high school, in a small country town, where a daughter in each generation found their future husbands in the hallways that they were walking in.

That school, in her words, was not just some “random” school in a “random” town. It was the same Shelby County High School that McDonald, her family and her classmates, had just been walking through in their high school days.

She knows that everyone was placed in the community and school system for a reason, one that she is proud to call home.

“This place isn’t random,” McDonald said. “I owe a lot to Shelby County High School and Columbiana, Alabama, because I had the privilege of meeting my best friends here, and going to school with my cousins here and forming lasting relationships because of the basketball team here.”

She tells her classmates that the negative experiences from their time last few years in the school in Columbiana will eventually fade off, but the positive experiences will be the ones that they remember for the rest of their lives.

“I don’t know what is next for most of us, but I do know that Shelby County High School made some part of each of us exactly who we are,” McDonald said. “Every life experience and situation we face helps us become who we are meant to be. Even though some people may not consider high school to have always been the best experiences, in 20 years, I don’t think we’ll remember the drama, or the things that seemed awful at 18 years old. I think we’ll remember losing our voices after football games, winning pep rallies, the endless amount of laughter that filled the hallways and singing the alma mater arm in arm with our best friends.”

She then pointed out that the town they had always known and loved is not going away, encouraging the students to not take saying goodbye to their home so heavily.

“What’s even more comforting is that even though we may be saying goodbye tonight, we are not saying goodbye forever,” McDonald said. “The beauty of this town, as I have recounted in this speech, is that it is always here, ready to welcome us back home.”

The graduates listened on through the end of the speech, hearing some memorable quotes that will carry on with them forever.

Principal Kyle Dudley presented the graduates, and it was evident how much impact he and others had impacted lives with the handshake he gave the students as he passed out the diplomas.

He then handed it off to Leah Slaughter, the school soloist, who led the senior class and the Shelby County High School family in singing the alma mater. As they sang, it was true what the student speakers had said: the memories that this class had will ring on forever.