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May 22—Members of Coahulla Creek High School's class of 2021 shouldn't shrink in fear of failure, but, rather, be bold and take risks, because that's the only way to avoid living with regrets, said salutatorian Katherine Walker.
High school was a time "each of us built ourselves from the ground up," but that was accompanied by "intrinsic threat of error," and Walker, despite her decorations — second in her class, a Georgia Scholar and a member of the National Honor Society — often lets the awards, scholarships and recognitions she narrowly missed dominate her thoughts, in the same way athletes tend to focus on losses, and artists can be consumed by substandard performances, she said. "We remember the regrets more than the exceptional moments, but living in fear keeps you living in the past."
However, "failure is not the end," Walker told her classmates Thursday during Coahulla Creek's commencement ceremony. "Keep your eyes cast forward" to the future.
In life "there will be times when you fail, but you can't give up," said Emily Stephens, an honors graduate. "Tomorrow is another day, and you, as the author, have the opportunity to write the next chapter."
"Life is about second chances," she said.
Stephens understands that sentiment. As a junior, the car she was driving was hit by an 18-wheel gravel truck about 100 yards from the high school's campus, and she was airlifted to Erlanger hospital in Chattanooga, but recovered quickly.
She lives by the motto "have fun, and work hard," and both those components are important, she said. "You can't succeed by just having fun, (and while) you can have success by just working hard, then you miss all the joys of life."
Indeed, "don't let the celebrations pass you by," Tracy Mardis, the high school's principal, advised the graduating class members. "Look for the good in all things, and celebrate, (because) we all need to after this year."
"It was definitely a crazy year, and your senior year started like no other," with a hybrid schedule of students attending in-person school some days and learning virtually from home other days due to COVID-19, Mardis said. Students eventually returned to in-person learning four days a week, then all five, but it still was hardly "normal," with masks being worn, social distances being observed and quarantines due to positive COVID-19 tests or possible exposures.
However, "you guys stayed with us, you worked hard in the classroom, and our student-athletes performed amazing," including a state championship for the boys soccer team, he said. Members of this senior class "made their mark" on the school and on one another, but "as you go out into the world, I want you to continue to look for ways to leave your mark."
"Serving others" is one way to do that, he said. "We need to love each other, lift each other up, have each other's backs, and be the best 'you' every day."
"We have a saying here, 'The Creek is rising,'" and that's certainly applicable for members of the class of 2021, said valedictorian Alex Defalco. "There's an entire world beyond Coahulla Creek, (and) we have an opportunity to make a difference."
"It seems like just yesterday we took our first steps into that building, unsure of what the next four years would hold," Walker said. "We have written ourselves anew over four years," and that's an opportunity every high school student is granted.
Walker advises current and future Coahulla Creek students to "get involved, because you don't want to get to (graduation), look around, and be like 'I don't know these people.'"
"You want to have those connections so all the senior year 'lasts' are meaningful, and reach out to teachers, too, because they are there for you," she said. "If you make that step, you can go so far."