By Lynn Schofer

The Laurel School District held the commencement ceremony for the 145 graduating seniors on Thursday evening surrounded by family, friends, and community members. Principal Petrina Giles remarked to the crowd, “what a beautiful evening to celebrate.” The ceremony included the 1973 alumni celebrating their 50 year graduation anniversary. 

The class graduates with 18 students above a 4.0 weighted GPA, 58 above 3.0, and over 50 percent plan to continue their education in college or trade school with over 4.8 million in scholarships. 

BULLDOGS- The Laurel High School class of 2023 procession makes its way onto the field to begin the graduation ceremony. Photo by Lynn Schofer

Giles spoke about the seniors and their hard work, “This year has been challenging. I can’t think of a better place to be than watching our seniors walk across the stage to receive a diploma. Congratulations and you made it here despite the challenges you have had to deal with over your years. Tonight, we celebrate all of you. I see you, I hear you, I care for you, and you make a difference.” 

Giles, a 1994 Laurel graduate, told the attendees, “I am honored to be standing before you as a parent of two Laurel graduates, the wife of a 1993 graduate, and the first black female principal in the history of Laurel School District. I cannot dream of a better place to be than Bulldog Country.”  

Also in attendance were acting school board members Linda Hitchens (president), Sabrina Taylor Isler (vice president), Brad Lee, Jana Pugh, and Brent Nichols.  

 Superintendent Shawn Larrimore gave his speech to the class sharing a parable with a narrative connecting to the history and pride of Laurel.” We need to adjust our perspective, our community has been through a tough year, we endured tragedy, senseless violence and we are constantly reminded of what we don’t have and when you are too close to it, sometimes it’s easy to hear the noise and not the beauty,” said Larrimore. “Take a step back and look with a set of fresh eyes and see the full picture to sharpen our perspective. We need to hear the good and see the beautiful. I see the big picture right now, a football field full of graduates. I see the abundance, the powerful, champions. I see our future doctors, teachers, service men and women, innovators, first responders, mechanics, and farmers.”

Larrimore continued and shared on his philosophy, “I believe there are two types of people and you get to decide who you want to be: a trouble maker or way maker,” and explained, “the ‘Trouble Maker’ identifies and sees the problem in every solution; the ‘Way Makers’ are problem solvers and see a way where there was no way.” 

Speaking to the class he said, “generational problems may get passed down but do not have to be passed on. I believe in you. We implore you, do not answer to those who call you less than what you are, you are excellence, you are barrier breakers, you are world changers.”  

Valedictorian Caroline Ricketts was introduced and congratulated her fellow graduates. “We persevered and made it to this very moment. I know this achievement will be one of many great accomplishments and I cannot wait to see all the great things we will do,” she said. “I can bet the vast majority of you are just as nervous as I was coming out here today. We know what we are doing but we are still nervous.”  

She spoke of the correlation to their lives beyond high school, “Although we haven’t spent the last two days practicing what we plan to do after graduation, we have spent much more time than that planning on what we are going to do. Although the ceremony and the new chapter in our lives are well practiced and prepared, taking these big steps is nerve wracking. Nervousness is not a bad sign, it is our strength. Our desire to succeed along with our committed practices sets us on the right path to achieve our goals.” 

Ricketts thanked everyone in attendance or watching online that have supported the class.  

Class Salutatorian Mirta Angel-Gabriel thanked all who have supported her journey, “You are the best class, you motivate me to be my best.” 

She spoke to her classmates, “Our high school journey was anything but ordinary but here we are ready to graduate.” 

Gabriel shared a personal story of triumph over fear that led to the realization that fear is normal as they move forward in life, “fear of failing or disappointing others and I should know this because those are my fears. How often do we stop ourselves from doing something out of fear?” Gabriel said, “How often are we presented with an opportunity and turn it down because we fear we are not capable or worthy of it?” 

Gabriel encouraged her classmates, “as humans, we don’t want to mess up but in life we may fail and it is okay. Life is about growing and you won’t thrive if you allow fear to hold you back.” 

She spoke of her hope for the class, “My hope for you is to not be afraid and have courage. The world is wild and far from perfect,” and concluded, “don’t hold yourself back and you will see how much you can accomplish.”  

 Along with the Valedictorian and Salutatorian the remaining academic top 10 were recognized: Faith Givens, Carlie Venables, Lily Hearn, Dakota Moxley, Ketsia Murat, Bree Bryan, Sidney Hastings, Arely Arriaga-Gonzalez. 

The ceremony included a moment of silence for the life of senior Corey Mumford who was tragically murdered in April. The class received diplomas and class president Charity Baynard and vice president Lunise Etienne presented the class gift of two scholarships.  Other class officers are Ketsia Murat and Jada Niblett. The class advisors were Molly Huhn and Chesney West. The graduates moved their tassels for the conferment of diplomas, concluding the ceremony.