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Leaving the den: Pisgah grads walk on Friday night

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CULLOWHEE — Pisgah High School Principal Clint Conner said goodbye to another class of graduates on Friday night, leaving them with a just a few parting words of wisdom as they move on beyond the doors of PHS.

“I’ve always said a goal is a dream with a deadline,” Conner told the students assembled in Western Carolina University’s Ramsey Center on Friday night.

A major deadline has come and gone for the Pisgah High School class of 2019, as the newest batch of graduates walked across the stage to receive their diplomas and head off into the world.

The ceremonies began with a presentation of the colors by Pisgah’s JROTC students, followed by the Star Spangled Banner and a collection of choral selections by the Pisgah High School Chorus.

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JROTC {span}—{/span} The Pisgah High School JROTC presented the colors ahead of the graduation ceremony.

After recognizing several of the teachers and staff members who had a major impact on students over the past year, Conner turned the mic over to the Class of 2019’s student speakers, chosen by the students themselves.

Up first was Carter Binkley, who reflected on the time he spent at PHS — exactly 720 days, he said — and what they meant to him. Despite early mornings and long days at school, the content of his classroom instruction wasn’t his biggest takeaway from his four years at the school.

“What we take from those 720 days may not be what happened during the War of 1812, the quadratic equation, or the steps involved in the scientific method,” he told his classmates. “Instead, it is the memory of those familiar faces that will stick with us for a lifetime.”

Securing a high school diploma is a challenging task, but overcoming that challenge is essential in this day and age to securing stability and a promising future.

Carly Stiles, the second PHS student chosen by her peers to address the crowd during the ceremony, reflected on the challenges her class has faced so far, and the many that lie ahead, as she spoke to her fellow students from the podium.

“This town is built on hard work and dedicated people,” Stiles said. “One thing that every single one of us knows is struggle. That’s how we got here. It shapes us. Everyone goes through struggles at some point in time.”

Stiles commended her peers for facing their struggles head-on, and embracing the challenges that come along with being a high schooler.

“Through hard work and perseverance, a bright light will always be waiting just around the corner,” she said. “Today is a bright light for all of us. We are getting a piece of paper that will allow us to move on to the next step — a piece of paper that shows all of our hard work and perseverance.”

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STUDENT SPEAKERS — Regan Lunsford reminded her class to remember where they came from as they move through the world.

Throughout the ceremony, Pisgah pride and an affection for the town of Canton was on prominent display. Much of the crowd assembled to congratulate the Class of 2019 looked like a sea of red and black from the floor of the Ramsey Center, as cheers erupted for graduates as they crossed the stage and air horns blared for familiar names.

That pride is a huge part of what defined the Pisgah High School experience for Regan Lunsford, the third and final student speaker of the evening.

“We are fortunate enough to have grown up in in such a unique place and to know that Canton is more than just a paper town,” Lunsford said. “As our small, tight-knit community continues to grow every day, it’s important to understand the impact it has consistently had on our high school careers.”

As the speeches wrapped up, the graduates began to file across the stage to receive their diplomas and take their first steps into an unfamiliar world for them. Whether they left the WCU campus headed for college, or the military, the workforce or places unknown, it was clear that the entire Pisgah Nation had their backs on Friday night.

As he finished his speech earlier in the evening, Binkley encouraged his classmates to recognize the impact such a strong community has had on their individual successes at PHS.

“All of our hard work and dedication has paid off. But without the amazing support we have received from our teachers, our peers and our families, this achievement would have been more challenging,” Binkley said. “We owe it to them to show off how far we have come to have the honor of sitting here, dressed up in our caps and gowns, and walking across the stage, taking our final steps as Pisgah High Schoolers.”

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