The venue changed. The emotions and traditions always part of Polk County High School graduation ceremonies did not.
Rain forced Polk County High’s commencement exercises indoors for the first time in some two decades, with Friday’s ceremony moved to the covered arena at Tryon International Equestrian Center.
The switch in venue provided new viewing opportunities for family and friends, with the crowd flanking the graduating class on three sites. The remainder of the evening, though, felt like a usual uniquely Polk County graduation, with the focus on the 143 seniors comprising the Class of 2019.
Students, as usual, comprised the bulk of the ceremony. Senior class president Kalob Jackson led the large crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance. Seniors Sadie Allen, Reese Alley, McKinnley Justice and Morgan Stott sang The Star-Spangled Banner. Alley, as student body president, then returned to provide a brief welcome.
For the first time, Polk County did not name a valedictorian or salutatorian, instead honoring students for their academic achievements with summa cum laude, magna cum laude or cum laude recognition. The top five students earning summa cum laude addressed the crowd as honor speakers, that group including Allen, Alley, Natalee Davis, Julianna Robbins and Juniper Walter-Eger.
Senior Elijah Sutton wowed the crowd with his rendition of Brian McKnight’s hit, “Win,” before Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene and Polk County Board of Education Chairman Geoffrey M. Tennant began bringing each senior onto the stage for the awarding of diplomas.
One chair among the 143 sat empty throughout the evening, that for senior Markell Lipscomb, who passed away last year in an automobile accident. Lipscomb’s family members took the stage to receive his diploma posthumously, with graduates and those in attendance rising to their feet with extended applause in Lipscomb’s honor.
Soon enough the final graduate, Mitchell Yoder, received his diploma and Tennant brought the Class of 2019 to its feet, proclaiming them graduates and asking them to turn the tassels on their caps to signify such. Cheers rang, caps soared, confetti erupted and Polk County’s 2019 graduation ceremony reached its end, class members walking the length of the covered arena and out the door, taking the first steps into their future.