Published 7:23 pm Monday, May 24, 2021

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Andalusia High School held its 117th Annual Commencement Program on Friday, May 21, honoring the Class of 2021.

113 students were honored in the Class of 2021. 47 members of this senior class were awarded the Alabama high school diploma with honors and they will graduate as members of the National Honor Society. 12 graduated Cum Laude with a GPA of 90 to 92.9. 22 seniors graduated Magna Cum Laude with GPAs of 93 to 97.9 and 13 seniors graduated Summa Cum Laude with a GPA of 98 and above. 69 members of this senior class have been offered scholarships totaling $2.8 million.

To start off the commencement program, AHS salutatorian Matthew Beasley gave his speech titled, ‘Reflections of Spring.’

“I want to start off by reading a haiku by Japanese poet Matsuo Basho – ‘Spring is passing

the birds cry, and the fishes’ eyes are

With tears,’” Beasley said. “A person’s life can figuratively be divided into seasons. Spring is the first part of one’s life representing youth and as Basho wrote, it is passing. Like the fish and the birds, we will all shed many tears as we leave behind the people that we have grown up with. The spring of our lifetimes is coming to a quick end, but we will reflect on it and cherish it in our memories forever.”

Beasley reflected on his class’ time at Andalusia City Schools, starting in the yellow hall and ending walking across the stage on Friday night.

“Our journey as a class began in the yellow halls of Andalusia Elementary School. Here, we met each other for the first time, making bonds that have lasted to this very day, making new ones later on and breaking some along the way. In our first years at the elementary school, we looked up to the big scary fifth-graders, but in a blink of an eye, we became them. We conquered the yellow, blue and green halls, leaving behind our behavior cards, field days and precious caught being good tickets. It was then time to move on to something brand new, sixth grade. Our class was the first to use the newly built sixth-grade hall. It extended our time at the elementary school, but it was still uncharted territory. We had a class-changing schedule for the first time, and we even got to use our own lockers. We went from being big dogs as fifth graders to even bigger dogs as sixth graders,” Beasley said. “In just one short year, we were off to even greater things. Unlike every other class before us, we did not get to experience the old middle school. Instead, we walked up to the Andalusia High School campus as seventh graders in the new junior high building. Once again, we were at the very bottom of the totem pole, but at the same time, we received a plethora of new freedoms.

Some of us were on sports teams and much of the class was involved in the junior high band. The teachers finally treated us less like children and began to prepare us for high school. The only thing holding us back was the strict dress code. All of us boys left the junior high with zip ties on every pair of shorts we owned. Soon enough, our junior high years were gone. We were about to enter the great Andalusia High School. We quickly learned that our next four years would be something we have never experienced before. Not only did we have a full day of classes, but we now had to balance that with extracurricular activities, homework and a little bit of sleep. We got our first taste of real school spirit during freshman homecoming week. We had a great turnout for the float site every night and the parents were more than willing to take us rolling afterward. With all of our hardwood and maybe a little help from our moms and dads, we won the float competition our freshman year, proving that the Class of 2021 was truly a force to be reckoned with.

Our class has a competitive spirit, and winning for us is a priority. With that being said, we managed to win the homecoming float competition three out of four years, which caused some of the other classes to lose their heads or at least one Bulldog head. We also won the Pride Day kickball tournament every year. Freshman year was a great time, but our high school experience was only beginning and it only got better.

Sophomore year, we really got our hands on the wheel. We no longer had trouble navigating the halls and now we were navigating the streets of Andalusia in our cars, as well. We got to and from school by ourselves and no longer needed our parents to drive us around rolling and to dances. Most importantly, we got to hang around in parking lots. Sophomore year zoomed by and Junior year was just another one for the books, at least until the world flew apart.”

During the Class of 2021’s junior year, the COVID-19 pandemic shook the world, ending the school year.

“After our class’s first prom, the school was told to stay closed for two weeks. We took our classes online and were confined to our homes. Next, we found out we would not be returning to school that year,” Beasley said. “The world had shut down because of COVID-19 and many schools would not be returning to in-person learning next school year. However, Andalusia High School has the mentality to overcome. Despite what the world told us, we returned to school our senior year and did not shut down for COVID once. I do not doubt that we had one of the most normal school years in the whole country. Every sport had a complete season, we had all of our dances and the band even made it to universal studios. Despite the obstacles, we had a normal senior year and we had a lot of fun along the way.

This night marks the end of our journey together as the Class of 2021. Like the fish and the birds in Basho’s haiku, our spring is passing by. We will forever reflect on all of the great times we have had and all the great memories we have made. We will forever be the best class to walk the halls of AHS and we will forever be proud to be Bulldogs.”

AHS valedictorian Collin Ward talked of his classmates in his speech, ‘Certain Uncertainty,’ stating, “There is no doubt in my mind that this class will improve their community in impactful ways.”

“In our modern society, it is so easy to feel insecure. We are swept up in a whirlwind of international news, national politics and even celebrity drama causing us to feel insecure and powerless to the change we can bring to our communities,” Ward said. “We fail to recognize our own capabilities because of the uncertainty we feel looking forward. With that uncertainty, comes a certainty of change. Notable change can come with a degree in medicine or law, but an even greater change can be made with a smile or wave. In life, we often forget the little seemingly irrelevant gestures, but the lack of social nicety leads to a bigger problem; division.

As a society, we often fail to see that we are on the same side. We argue national politics with our neighbors and start wars online.”

Last year, Ward traveled to Hong Kong to protest communism. In his speech, he talked about being enlightened about the significance of close relationships.

“Amidst the turmoil of protest, American flags waved with no thought of the political division between democrats and republicans,” Ward said. “My experiences in Hong Kong enlightened me to the significance of close relationships and their impacts on our communities. So whether it be politics or daily conflicts, we must work to show compassion in one another and learn to appreciate, give back to and thank those who got us this far.”

Turning to the parents of his class, Ward advised them that their work is not over.

“Your job is not done. Your little boy or girl may be grown up and moving on but your responsibilities do not end there,” Ward said. “It is your job to give guidance and it is our job to listen. My mom and dad are probably laughing at the thought of me listening.

On a serious note, we are entering the unknown. Many of us may find great joys or great sorrows. We will need you to be our biggest cheerleaders in success, but also a shoulder to cry on in distress. Just don’t expect us to obey your curfews anytime soon.”

Then, turning to his classmates, Ward brought up the certainty of uncertainty is to know that Andalusia will always be home.

“We have spent the past four years studying, partying and partaking in drama. We have had enemies and we have had friends, but as we move forward, I hope we all look at one another and see family,” Ward said. “We are going our own ways, but let us travel with no bridges burned or burdens carried. For if I have learned anything in the past two years is that nothing is certain. In an instance, our lives can be changed, but with the certainty of uncertainty we will find comfort in knowing that we all have a home in Andalusia.”

When former superintendent Ted Watson got up to the podium, he began his speech by stating, “Wow, what a year.”

“Last March we got the word that schools were shutting down. Teachers scurried to try and get assignments to students and we tried even harder to get assignments from students. That was tough when we found out that that was not the ideal situation. What we did was plan really hard during the summer because COVID was reaching its peak and was starting to spike again and we had to make plans for the coming year,” Watson said. “At the central office, there was a common phrase going around, ‘We need two weeks.’ Two weeks to get kids in school, in front of their teachers so they could teach the kids exactly how we were going to present their education to them via the internet. We had a great plan. We were just going to live stream it. I thought we had the best plan in the state of Alabama. The truth of the matter is, there were two elements working against us. Number 1, and it’s not really a good one, but there is a maturity level of our kids in high school about getting up and having to attend school in the morning times when they are at home. At the end of the first semester, I asked Dr. Shakespeare and Mrs. Johnson at the elementary school if they would like us to call the students that are failing and they said, ‘Oh no, we will call them.’ As a result of that, we had most of them come back to the school for in-classrom learning. Then we started ‘COVID-Academy’ at the old middle school.”

Throughout the anxiousness and the calamity, Watson learned that his staff, students and parents would not give in.

“There were a couple of things that I learned from that endeavor. The first one was really enlightening to me. These students were not having anything other than them showing up to school. They wanted football. They wanted basketball, baseball. They wanted dances. They wanted band trips. They wanted all the things that would be as close to a regular school year that everybody else has had. That being said, they kind of spilled over and started talking to parents. You guys demanded that we do face-to-face, in classroom teaching; and it worked. We were hit, especially at the central office. Nobody was spared of the COVID.

Melinda Carrasco, our head nurse, worked that thing masterfully making sure that the people that needed to be quarantined were quarantined and the people that could come to school were here.

As an administrator, I don’t think that I have ever seen people work so hard to make something like education happen. Just like everything else in life, if you want to make it happen, you have to want it and you have to want it bad.

You proved to me parents, students, teachers, custodians, nurses, SRO’s, everybody in this school system went above and beyond. There is a saying in the sports world where if you get hurt you say, ‘suck it up.’ I have never, ever, in my entire life been so proud of a group of teachers, administrators, parents, students, everybody who made this year happen. It was a tough year, the toughest I’ve been through in 35 years in terms of making it happen, but you know what? You did it. So, I thought to myself, ‘What the heck, they are going to graduate, so I might as well too.’

At the end of the day, this class leaned on each other, they loved each other, they wanted to help, they wanted to persevere, and they wanted an education that is Andalusia City School’s education and you guys deserve to be applauded for that.”

ACS superintendent Dr. Daniel Shakespeare congratulated the Class of 2021, acknowledging how much they have grown as a class.

“Class of 2021, you made it. This is your graduation. This is your time. This is your moment. Tonight marks the end of one phase of your life, but the beginning of another. Over the past several years, you have worked and studied, practiced and played and grown. You have grown mentally as well as physically and now you are here ready to begin your lives in the adult community,” Shakespeare said. “I realize that this may not have been the most typical senior year. But I hope it is one you remember. Not for the things that you did not get to do, but for the things you did get to do. Remember the pep rallies we got to have. Remember the sports you were able to play as a team. Remember the band performances on Friday nights. Remember the special times you shared with classmates. Remember the in-person learning you got to have despite of COVID. Remember the homecoming we got to have. Remember senior night and prom and pride day and remember driving up third avenue and looking up and seeing the cupola sitting on top of the main building and that sense of pride that you had because you attended Andalusia high school. Most of all, remember the countless times standing, locking arms, swaying from side to side singing, ‘Andalusia our dear mother, tis to the we sing, our true love and fond allegiance, ever we shall bring. Through the years, dear Alma Mater, this shall be our aim, always ever to endeavor to honor thy fair name.’”

Ending his speech, Shakespeare reminded the Class of 2021 that they would always have a home in Andalusia.

“Take these memories and be grateful. Use them to embrace the new life ahead of you. As you walk across this stage tonight, take a piece of Andalusia High School with you, because I can assure you, a piece will be left here of every one of you. I cannot be more proud of the class of 2021,” Shakespeare said. “It has been my honor to serve as your principal for the past four years. On behalf of the faculty and staff I wish every one of you the happiness of a productive life, the respect of your fellow human beings and the love of your family.”