UNION COUNTY — The Union County High School Class of 2016 hit a milestone Friday evening with the school’s annual graduation ceremony.
The ceremony included participation from several members of the Class of 2016. The invocation was given by Morgan Pittman; the benediction was given by Reid Bailey; and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Mallory McGee.
The UCHS GT Music class sang the national anthem, and the JROTC presented the colors. There were also musical performances by the UCHS Concert Choir and New Reason Gospel Choir.
Diplomas were presented to members of the graduating class by Union County Principal Betsy Trakas, CATE Center Director Kevin Morrow, Union County Interim Superintendent Dr. David Eubanks, and school board member Ms. Jane Hammett.
The UCHS 2016 valedictorian is Payton Martin, who addressed those in attendance. She began by thanking God, her family for unconditional love and support, her friends for friendship, and her teachers for guidance.
“When you’re young you’re told you can go anywhere, you can do and be anything, and so your life becomes a series of moments and memories, all leading to where you want to go,” Martin said. “Every day becomes about reaching a new milestone.”
Martin recalled anticipation of becoming a teenager and escaping the perceived insignificance of being a 12-year-old. She mentioned counting the days until she turned 15 and got her learner’s permit to drive.
“You rush growing up because you can’t wait for all the privileges of adulthood,” she said. “Graduation is just another one of those milestones we could not wait to reach. But just like all milestones, it marks a bittersweet time. We’ve reached a time in our lives where we are torn between the joy of our memories and the excitement of our future.”
Martin said while change is often difficult, it is inevitable.
“Our lives are more about how we will choose to approach change rather than if we will face it,” she said.
Martin then encouraged everyone to follow the advice of British philosopher Alan Watts, who she quoted: “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
Martin encouraged her classmates to embrace the new opportunities they were about to receive — whether they included employment, college or military service. She asked her classmates to embrace and enjoy the changes, and she challenged them to set goals for themselves.
“Embrace your differences with the knowledge that it is this difference that makes you irreplaceable,” Martin told fellow seniors. “I encourage above all else to use your gifts and talents to give back to God a life well lived.”
Saludatorian Cara Phillips also spoke. She began by thanking her parents and family for constant support and unconditional love. Phillips also thanked her teachers and school staff for challenging her; her classmates for the memories; and God for blessing her with the amazing people in her life.
Phillips said there were several words which would describe her graduating class — intelligent, hardworking, tight-knit, outspoken, loud and proud.
“Whether in academics, sports, clubs or fine arts, the Class of 2016 has numerous successes to be proud of,” Phillips said. “Throughout this class — sitting among you and on top of this stage — we have class officers, SGA officers, Rotary Scholars, National Honor Society members, Interact Club members, Beta Club members, Palmetto Fellows, 14 college sports signees, back-to-back softball state champions, North-South All-Stars, Indoor Percussion state champions, marching band members, International Thespian Society members, drama production participants, certified cosmetologists, Palmetto Girls and Boys State delegates, and those who have committed to serve our country in multiple branches of the military.”
Phillips also pointed out that members of her class volunteer in the community as Miracle League buddies, Relay for Life team members, youth mission workers, and youth coaches and instructors.
“Let us cherish the memories of our high school days and take pride in the many accomplishments we have achieved at Union County High School,” Phillips said. “As we prepare to walk across the stage tonight and receive the diplomas we have worked so hard for, let us have faith to face the promising future that is before each of us.”
Derik Vanderford can be reached at 864-762-4128.