Seeking out opportunities to enhance knowledge and using what is learned to evoke change and embrace growth were the words of advice that senior Laken Blakenship left with her fellow classmates before they were officially declared high school graduates.

Blankenship joined other members of the Class of 2019 on June 14 at the Holmes Convocation Center for the graduation of the 53rd class of Watauga High School students and third class of the Watauga Innovation Academy.

Blakenship’s first day at Watauga High School was during her junior year — a change that she credits as the most influential day of her life. She said the people she met in Watauga were not afraid to express themselves and their opinions even if it was different from their classmates.

“Prior to my new school, I lived in a very homogeneous branch of society,” Blankensip said. “Individuality was suppressed and conformity was encouraged. I moved from an environment in which people who differed from the social norms were set apart to a place where there was unity in diversity. These changes, combined with a positive and loving environment fostered my own personal growth.”

After her move to Watauga, Blakenship said she was able to fully grasp the importance of education and growth. She encouraged the Class of 2019 to pursue the kind of knowledge that teaches a valuable life lesson and use it for to instill change. To master the art of change, Blakenship charged her classmates to read in order to expose themselves to more information, try new things and speak out.

“… and just maybe, in amidst of all of the chaos in this thing we call life, we can use this knowledge to change the world around us,” Blakenship said.

Three other student speakers joined Blakenship during the graduation ceremony: Bethany Bryan, Siena Ritter and Emma Tzotshew. Graduates also heard from Board of Education Chairman Ron Henries, Watauga High School Principal Chris Blanton and Superintendent Scott Elliott.

Additionally, attendees enjoyed performances by the Watauga High School band/orchestra as well as the choir.

Watauga High School had 264 seniors receive their diplomas on June 14 with 18 students who graduated early. The Watauga Innovation Academy had 49 graduates receive their diplomas with 12 early grads. In total, the two schools had 313 graduates receive diplomas at the ceremony and 30 early graduates.

With the opportunity to participate in college courses while still in high school, 147 students of the the group of graduates earned a total of 667 college credits, according to Elliott. Of the students who graduated from WIA, 29 of them graduated with a community college certificate and their high school diploma. The graduating class also had earned more than $4 million in scholarship money, not considering any federal finance aid or lottery scholarships, Elliott said.

“I am certain that all of you are destined to do good things and to make our world a better place,” Elliott said. “There are so many ways that this talented class will continue to lead and serve others in our community, in our state, nation, world, in our businesses and in our universities.”

Families and friends clapped and cheered in support as each graduate was called to the stage and handed their diploma. Blanton prompted the students to move their tassels and caps were tossed — signifying their official completion of high school.

Blanton said he knew the Class of 2019 was ready and prepared for the next step that lies ahead of each of them.

“I’m proud of you and wish you the very best that life has to offer,” Blanton said.

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