Saturday evening marked the close of one chapter and the beginning of another in the life stories of the 371 graduates of Smith-Cotton High School.
Hosted at the Mathewson Exhibition Center on the Missouri State Fairgrounds, the evening was a celebration of the success and individuality of the young men and women who became the newest members of the Alumni Class of S-C.
S-C Principal Wade Norton, in his remarks to the graduates and those in attendance, spoke of the unique relationship between the graduates.
“This year has been the full range of emotion,” Norton said. “I have watched (the seniors) laugh, celebrate, love, collaborate and grow; I also watched them fight, lose, suffer and cry.
“As a principal, I expect to see a lot of these emotions each year, but this year I saw more than enough of the hard stuff,” he added. “I don’t see that each year. They are not all friends, they don’t all get along, but they realized very quickly this year they were stronger together than alone.”
Norton commented that he was very proud of each of them for sticking together and watching out for one another, even checking on the adults at S-C.
“We became a family,” Norton said. “The last conversation we had may have been a simple good morning in the halls, a positive talk or possibly it was a strong-worded reminder to get back on track.
“Whatever it was, please know that I am proud of each of you and I don’t want it to be the last conversation, so I have decided not to say goodbye,” he added. “I will check on you, I will continue to nag on you if you need it and I ask that you stop by and check on us. Thank you for letting me be a part of your family.”
Another special celebration of family was evidenced during the ceremony, as Msg. Mark Buckner surprised his daughter, Marri Buckner, as she walked across the stage to receive her diploma.
Buckner has been serving in the Army National Guard in Korea for the last nine months but was granted leave to see his daughter graduate.
As Marri’s name was called, Msg. Buckner stepped through the curtains to the left side of the stage delighting his daughter and those in the audience as they were told of his presence at the ceremony.
Marri Buckner said she had no idea her father would be home for her graduation, adding though her tears that it was “very exciting to have her father home.”
Msg. Buckner, who is a 1988 graduate of Smith-Cotton, has served in the military for 27 years.
He expressed his thanks to Norton and the Sedalia School District 200 for making the moment possible.
“I didn’t know that we would be able to make this happen,” Msg. Buckner said. “It took a couple of phone calls to Mr. Norton and he was very kind in his help.
“I have to go back on May 30 so we are looking forward to this week,” he added.
His daughter agreed, telling her father he should plan to see a lot of her in the upcoming days before his return.
Superintendent Brad Pollitt commented on how allowing that moment between a father and daughter was something Norton does on a daily basis for his students at S-C.
“Allowing for that moment is just an example of what an effective principal can do for a class,” Pollitt said after the ceremony. “Wade always holds the students responsible for their educational outcomes but he is there to listen and help them become the young men and women that we have recognized this evening.”
Class Valedictorian Bailey Curry spoke on behalf of her class, adding similar sentiments. Lydia Sharp was named the 2016 salutatorian for the class.
Curry said there had been both significant and seemingly inconsequential moments that made up the majority of the seniors’ high school days.
“If you have ever had that moment that you think is too small to be effective in your life or others, then you clearly have never had a mosquito trapped in your pants leg,” Curry said. “That little mosquito might be small, and it might only take him about 30 seconds to bite you exactly 43 times, but those bites will affect you for the rest of the summer.
“Just a small moment could make all the difference without even noticing it at that time,” Curry added.
Curry went on to talk about “that moment,” stating that it came in September of their first year of high school during an assembly when Norton called the students into the auditorium for an assembly.
“(Norton) made a statement that most of us paid no attention to at that time,” Curry said. “He talked to us about the number seven, meaning the seven credits we needed that year to be on track to make it to this day.
“During the first assembly of our sophomore year, the man who had tried so hard to connect and motivate us our freshman year, the one we ignored, was on stage,” Curry added. “He had followed us; he was our pesky little mosquito who buzzed in our ears pushing us to be better people than we were the year before or the month before.”
Curry added that the mosquito, Norton, has held the class together through the “good times, the tragedies and the boring days of the past four years.”
“While that one assembly our freshman year didn’t make an instant impact, the persistence of this one man, or mosquito, changed our high school experience completely,” Curry said. “So thank you Mr. Norton for preparing us for life, for being tough on us like you would your own kids, and for leading us by example to teach us the things you couldn’t by words.
“The class of 2016 will forever and always be grateful that you were a pesky little mosquito for us, buzzing in our ears these lengthy four years,” she added. “You shaped our high school experience and with the help of the Smith-Cotton faculty you prepared us to move forward into the real world.”
In his comments during the ceremony, Pollitt thanked the administration and staff of Smith-Cotton for helping to lead and shape the class of 2016.
“The class of 2026 has worked hard to earn the respect of the administration and staff at Smith-Cotton,” Pollitt said. “This indeed is a special class, having earned over $2.8 million in scholarships and accomplishing a number of team and personal goals.”
Pollitt added his personal congratulations to the graduates and left them with a piece of advice given by senior Vlad Warsawski to the underclassmen on senior soccer night.
“‘Live your life in such a way that if someone ever says something bad about you, no one will ever believe them,’” Pollitt quoted Warsawski, adding his personal comment: “I am indeed proud that you are and always will be a Tiger.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484