A sea of red, more than 200 red caps were tossed into the air Saturday morning concluding the graduation ceremonies of the Vilonia High School class of 2012-13.
Traditionally, the 208 graduates said goodbye to one chapter in their life. Both of the graduate speakers, Jordan Heykoop and Colton Johnson, ultimately, said the new graduates are prepared to begin the quest for the next milestone.
"We have been being prepared for this all of our lives," Heykoop said. Others, he said, have believed in us and invested in us including parents, grandparents, friends and educators. "We also have been blessed with teachers who really care about us."
In addition, he said, "It is important to continue to work to better ourselves." Our paths will be split and we "must choose the right path," he offered.
Johnson told his peers, "This is the moment we begin to carry ourselves." He encouraged them to make good decisions as they continue on in their different paths.
"The world is open and the opportunities are endless," he added.
The ceremony, held at the Farris Center, University of Central Arkansas in Conway, began at about 10 a.m. with the presentation of colors and the playing of the National Anthem by the Vilonia High School Band. The invocation was given by student Donny Nash.
Lasting about two hours, the bleachers on both sides of facility were packed for the event. Cameras flashed and the applause was loud as students filed in and on stage. The crowd was asked to refrain from making noises other than applauding.
The Vilonia Board of Education sat on stage along with several school administrators. VHS principal Andy Ashley and assistant principal Ronnie Simmons announced the graduates. Jerry Roberts, board president, presented all of the diplomas except one. School superintendent Frank Mitchell handed that one to his grandson Kaleb McBay, as well as shook his hand and gave him a hug.
The cheers intensified when student Angela Payne crossed the stage. A cancer victim, Payne has been dealing with the disease for about the past five years and has spent time off and on hospitalized. In an earlier program, it was announced that she has received the Eleanor Duncan Scholarship from Conway Regional. She plans to major in nursing at Arkansas Tech University with plans to become a hematology/oncology nurse.
Some students appeared to be emotional, such as Eileen Lee Cates. Tears in her eyes, she said she should have graduated last year but was in a head-on automobile collision in 2011 that left her with some injuries.
"This has been hard for me," she said. "My friends graduated last year. But, I’m okay and glad to be doing it now."
Cates plans to go to veterinarian school following graduation.
Nearing the end of the ceremony, Ashley asked the 40 honor graduates to stand. Many in the audience paid tribute with a standing ovation.
Students officiated over the rest of the ceremony. The turning of the rings was officiated by Melissa Sorsby and followed by the changing of the tassels by Caroline Armstrong. Christian Gunter gave the benediction.
In conclusion, Ashley said the class of 2013 has received more than $3.5 million in scholarships.