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Graduation only a beginning

I watched 160 young people walk into the future Friday night. It was inspiring.

Greenville High's graduation ceremony was pretty routine as far as graduation exercises go, I suppose, but there was no doubting the drama of the night as Small town, America again thrust its best foot forward.

It was impressive, an occasion you did not watch as a spectator but rather, participated in; for not only was it the youth of Greenville taking those deservedly important steps into the spotlight, it was also the future of our city and country moving forward with them.

It was an emotional experience.

It was personal.

It was a time of pride, of accomplishment, of reflection and of the reality that so critical a period in the lives of the young people has come and gone in a span of time so quickly in retrospect that it hardly seems possible.

There was no hiding from that sensation of achievement. It oozed from every seat, from every smile, from every embrace, from every tear.

It was evident most notably in the beaming eyes of parents and relatives, some who dressed casually for the event, others who watched in their Sunday-go-to-meetin' best and many who arrived an hour in advance of the festivities or braved a seemingly endless, snake-like line of cars to be assured of a good seat for so meaningful an occasion.

And it was contagious.

There were no enemies seated on the hard, concrete rows of storied, old Tiger Stadium, no good guys or bad guys, just hundreds of people brought together by a common thread and the unlimited potential of youth.

Stacks of black diplomas, perched center stage on a podium atop the manicured green grass at midfield near a large arrangement of flowers, drew unrivaled attention, the symbol of hours of dedicated work, of ups and downs, pushes and pulls, failures and successes.

The processional's first notes brought with them a sense of electricity and a taste of magic prompting butterflies in the stomach of even the most casual of observers.

That long line of black-garbed youngsters marched ever-so-proudly and deliberately, trailing their teachers across the 50-yard line, not only to the music, but to the steady whirr of video and digital cameras, the artificial lighting from accompanying flash units and the scurrying of parents and friends into positions for appropriate waves and spontaneous shouts of glee.

It was nice.

Not perfect, but nice.

A noisy hum from the at times 10-to-12 person deep standing room only crowd behind the more formal and full south side of the stadium, made it difficult to hear words of gratitude, promise and challenge from honored, but sometimes nervous, student leaders.

Still, the likes of valedictorian Branddon Bailey, salutatorian Kyle Tanner, class president Meghan Branum and officers Kari Rogers, Kim Powell, Delisha Moorer and Marthina Carter added touches of eloquence to a delightfully pleasant, clear, moonlit night.

The swelling of pride engulfed us all again as each graduate singularly paraded into the grasps of a firm handshake, the passing of so significant a document and the squealing cheers of enthusiasm, occasional piercing yells, periodic releases of balloons fluttering into the heavens or true and deserved cries of contentment as each moved through the hard-earned spotlight that perhaps once again evoked fond thoughts of unique experiences, cherished memories and lifelong friendships.

As each made his or her official mark on society, I couldn't help but wonder if they knew the true meaning of their action, if they fully realize the limitless opportunities that lie ahead for those willing and wise enough to put forth the necessary effort.

For truly, graduation is not an end, but a beginning.

Ed Darling is president and publisher of Greenville Newspapers LLC. He can be reached at 382-3111 or ed.darling@greenvilleadvocate.com.