By Tammy Minnigh • Staff Writer
MONTEREY — Highland County’s unique nature was on display Saturday as Highland High School’s 17 seniors graduated.
The high school gym was full of proud parents, beaming grandparents, wiggly younger siblings, giggly friends, and supportive neighbors, all celebrating this milestone.
“For the past 13 years of my life, I have done everything with these 17 people,” said Carly Thomas as she gave the welcoming address for the graduation of the Highland County High School Class of 2022.
Thomas recounted some of her favorite memories and noted the importance of the friendships formed.
“Know that I expect you all to attend the five-year reunion that I will begin planning next week,” Thomas said.
Highland High School students and families celebrated Class Day on June 11, including a slide show of memories, stories from each grade the graduates passed through, and wacky predictions for the future.
As the seniors worked toward graduation, many struggled to add one more advanced placement class or get their GPA up just a bit more in hopes of getting into the colleges of their choice. Some students know exactly what they want to be as adults, while others have no idea.
“It was only within the last few weeks that I realized it’s OK to not have everything planned or to be 100 percent sure,” said salutatorian Erin Brendel in her speech.
Brendel plans to attend Carson Newman University in Tennessee and study nursing but admitted to being terrified to go to another state on her own.
“The truth is, we never know what life is going to throw at us, so we’ve got to be prepared to go with it,” she said. “No matter what the curve ball is, it’s all part of the journey.
“Thank you for making school fun,” Brendel said to her fellow graduates. “My classmates are truly what made my time here at Highland the best part of my life.”
Valedictorian Emma Herold spoke about the value of community. Acknowledging small towns have some negative aspects, Herold emphasized the positives. She said the tight-knit community helps to foster accountability and offers tons of encouragement.
“It took me a really long time to truly appreciate this special aspect of my community,” Herold said. As she grew up, Herold realized she was developing skills that would enable her to recognize other support systems as she moved through life.
“I am so thankful for this support system,” Herold said.
She said support means both encouragement and tough love when you need it. It also means avoiding judgment, she added.
“We enter the next chapter of our lives already aware of what a
supportive community looks like,” Herold said. “We have experienced true support, so we can provide true support.”
Because the class was only 17 students, interim superintendent Charles Winkler could develop relationships with each one during his three-month tenure, he said. “What a privilege and an honor it has been to get to know these graduates,” he said.
Winkler gave the keynote address, taking time to address each student individually.
“I ask you, how will you succeed and fulfill your dreams?” he said.
As Winkler gave personalized advice, he encouraged all the graduates to be bold. “The only height in life to fear is the one you don’t reach for. Continue to dream big.”
“We began this journey together,” noted Tim Good, who began as high school principal at Highland the same year the Class of 2022 started sixth grade.
“I want you to remember these words: called, connected, committed,” Good said as he prepared to hand out diplomas. “Be committed to excellence and passionate in all aspects of your life.”
Highland High School awarded three types of diplomas — advanced, standard, and applied studies. Twelve students were honors graduates; three earned Governor’s Seals; two earned Board of Education Seals; 14 earned Career and Technical Seals; 10 earned Excellence in Civics Seals; and two were early college scholars.
The HHS Class of 2022 included: Emma Herold, Erin Brendel, Tiffany Aguilar, Savannah Arbogast, Anna Armstrong, Allison Campbell, Harley Cunningham, James Cunningham, Lauren Davis, Ryan Gonzalez-Field, Emma Harman, Daniel Minnigh, Cassidy Mowry, Cayden Roberson, Alex Smith, Carly Thomas, and Alexis Wilfong.