Dear High School Graduates:

Congratulations! In just a couple of days more than 1,000 of you are going to walk across that stage for your high school diploma. Some of you already have.

For that matter, three of you — Caley Williams from North Moore, and Union Pines’ Caleb Kimpler and Haley Kissell — already have walked — for your associate degrees at Sandhills Community College. That’s a special kind of awesome.

We are immensely proud of all of you. This is a unique moment in your life for each of you individually as well as a class. Each of you has experienced a personal challenge that felt overwhelming and all-consuming: a death in the family, illness, divorce, family money problems. And yet you found an inner strength — or someone showed how much they believed in you — and you persevered.

Trust us: Success without also having faced loss and adversity does not taste as sweet. You are better and stronger and wiser for the difficulties you’ve faced. They’ll help you when new challenges arise — and they will come surely as the dawn.

And as a class? Well, you’re a pretty special lot. Yes, we say that about each class that comes along, but it doesn’t make it less true. You have collectively earned more than $20 million in college scholarships. You will attend colleges far and near, many of you with enough credits already to be on your second or third semester of college.

Think for a second of those who once stood where you are. Today, they are corporate leaders, politicians, entrepreneurs, military commanders, doctors, teachers, community organizers.

Those graduates before you? They occupy expansive corner offices or are in charge of complicated operations upon which millions rely.

Others work long hours in a service economy that many take for granted only until it’s not there or working properly. Service to our fellow humans is a noble calling, whether it’s running a lawn care company or operating the front desk of a resort hotel.

And more than a few graduates before you now rest eternally in honored graves, having died defending our freedoms and way of life. Remember them especially. They had hopes and dreams, just like you, but their last thoughts and actions were not for themselves but others and their country.

You’re probably receiving lots of advice. We can’t help it, especially when it seems like yesterday we held your hand and walked you into kindergarten. It might not seem this way now, but the easy part is over. It gets exponentially harder from here. That’s why this upcoming ceremony is called a “commencement.” It’s not really an ending, but rather more of a beginning.

Are we scared for you? We can’t help but be. You should be a little scared too. The world now basically considers you an adult. No one’s going to hold your hand on the first day of anything anymore.

You are an amazing class, and not just because you taught us how to use our iPhones. And yes, we saw you rolling your eyes when we demanded to see your Snapchat account and still couldn’t figure it out.

You dazzled us on the field, whether you ran with the ball or played fourth trumpet in the marching band. Your leadership by example was inspiring. You helped Special Olympians, planted community gardens, raised money to help the less fortunate. And when tragedy befell your peers far away, you felt that pain and acted in a way you felt called. We were inspired.

You’ll change in time. You’ll grow. It’s bound to happen. But don’t ever lose your passion and connection to each other. At day’s end, your humanity is your greatest asset.

We’ve seen what you’ve done. We can’t wait to see what you’ll do. Now, commence.

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