Dalton High School's class of 2022 urged to find and live their dreams

·4 min read

Jun. 1—Members of Dalton High School's class of 2022 have "trudged through four long, arduous years to (reach) this moment, (and) the kids we once were didn't realize how quickly this day would come, (but) this is where we start" new beginnings, graduate Edward Ramirez told his classmates during Saturday's graduation at Harmon Field.

"We will take to all corners of the globe — our potential knows no bounds — (but be sure to) cherish those memories and the journey."

"The important thing is to just do it, (because) to live is to experience," added Ramirez, an honors graduate. "I wish you all a lifetime of discoveries."

"So many emotions are consuming us all right now" after 13 years in Dalton Public Schools, the past four "trying to find ourselves," said graduate Bridgit Herrera. Graduates spent plenty of long nights searching for answers — both to homework assignments as well as to larger life questions — and for many, "our minds were the biggest roadblock for us, but we got through it, and we can make it through anything."

This class is "no stranger to change," but they've learned that "things turn out the best if you make the best of how things turn out," said salutatorian Ansley Nguyen. "I hope, wherever you go, you're able to take a moment to breathe, live life, and not let life live you."

However, "in the midst of achieving your goals, I hope you never forget to be decent people," added Nguyen, a member of the National Honor Society, a Georgia Scholar and this year's Dalton STAR (Student Teacher Achievement Recognition) student. "I think I speak for every one of us when I say we should be thankful for the special people in our lives" who helped the graduates reach that point.

Sponsored by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) and the PAGE Foundation, the STAR program recognizes outstanding students and teachers, and high school seniors must have the highest score on a single test date on the SAT and be in the top 10% or top 10 students of their class based on grade point average to qualify for a STAR nomination.

"Students, you wouldn't be here without the support of your families and loved ones," said Principal Stephanie Hungerpiller. "They love and care about you so much."

Nguyen will miss the collegial atmosphere of Dalton High.

"It seems so little, but just saying 'Hi' to people in the hallway is so nice, or giving someone a pat on the shoulder" for encouragement, said Nguyen, who will attend Georgia Tech on a full-ride scholarship. "Tech is so big, and I'll get used to that, but I'll miss the closeness everyone has here."

Nguyen encourages younger students to look beyond the obvious for extracurricular activities in high school.

"Don't join a club just to (improve) your résumé, because it's not worth it, and people will know," she said. "I did that for a second, then stopped, (because) you need to want to be there."

For example, "people wouldn't suspect that I'm a theater kid," but she was involved in theater all four years, both performing and backstage, because she loved it, she said. She also learned "so many skills in theater I can use outside of theater."

For fellow graduate Belisa Borrego, her four years at Dalton High confirmed she wants to continue creating art the rest of her life.

"Art will never leave me, (because) it's a part of me," said Borrego, who recently completed a large mural for the school's Fine Arts Academy hallway. "It would be like getting rid of an arm."

She's thankful to teachers like Ree Lambert and Trevor Ledford for helping her grow as an artist during her high school years.

"They never tried to change what I wanted to express, but they encouraged me to improve it," said Borrego, who received the Creative Arts Guild's Bernice Spigel Prize for Excellence in the Visual Arts this spring, received an invite to this year's All-State Art Symposium at Columbus State University and graduated with honors. "I tried my best to always improve and never be satisfied, because I want to be the best artist I can possibly be."

Graduation makes Borrego feel "nostalgic for all my memories of Dalton High, and all my teachers who have impacted my life," she said. It's "unforgettable."

"Life is not easy all the time, (but) stay focused, develop work ethic, and show determination," Hungerpiller advised the graduates. "Learn from your mistakes, be persistent, and don't waver."

The class of 2022 has already demonstrated "leadership in so many ways," Hungerpiller said. They've "supported each other with a tremendous amount of school spirit and have given back to the community" in numerous ways.

"I'm filled with excitement to celebrate this group, and my wish for every one of you is that you live your dream, (as) I'm living mine," she concluded. "Go out, chase your dreams, and always believe in yourselves, (because) you can change the world."