MONTGOMERY — The Valley High School community leaned heavily on each other in the final year for the Greyhounds.

At Valley High's graduation ceremony on May 11 at the Upper Kanawha Valley YMCA — the last in light of the school's closure — speakers addressed the difficulty of the school year and their thanks for the community members who offered their support throughout the process.

In addition to offering special thanks to their families and others who made the day possible, the three student speakers discussed other topics, as well.

In her remarks, student body president Sara Reid said, "It seems like just yesterday we were starting off the year with bright eyes and empty backpacks, counting down the days until today, sometimes wishing it would never come and sometimes wishing it would only come faster."

"It was a year full of heartbreak and euphoria, tailgates, arguments and amazing memories, and it flew by faster than any of us could ever have imagined," Reid continued. "It was difficult for us seniors. We wanted to enjoy our last year, but we had to push away the constant reminder of our school's fate."

"Here we are participating in a ceremony that we all thought would never come," said high honor student Matthew Moore.

Moore, too, offered his appreciation for those in the audience. "No matter how you contributed to this special place, your love and compassion will never be forgotten and you'll always be remembered as great community members."

"Even though this is a very unjust ending to an era, that doesn't mean our spirit, pride or love for our community will ever fail," Moore continued. "The journey to get here has been different for all of us.

"We made it to this point together."

To teachers and advisors, high honor student Alexis Wood said, "Thank you for treating us like adults, and pushing us to make the right decisions."

Wood also thanked the Fayette County Board of Education "for pulling our community together to fight for our school."

"It's been a hard year coming to terms with saying good-bye to the place that made us who we are, but we all pulled together and made our last year together something to remember," she said.

Finally, to her senior classmates, Wood offered, "Thank you for caring."

VHS principal Lee Loy told graduating seniors that, going forward, they "will change from the young people you once were to young adults with responsibilities and goals. You will change from the person who only could see today to the person who works, hopes and prays for a better tomorrow."

"Since 1977, Valley High School students have changed the communities they live in for the better," Loy said. Much community service has been provided, he said, and "finely-trained individuals" have emerged from the school to take their places in the larger world. He recognized occupations including doctors and nurses, lawyers, engineers, tradesmen, police and firefighters, teachers, coal miners, steel workers and military members.

While asking military personnel present to stand and be recognized, he also urged people to "remember those who served our nation and (gave) the ultimate sacrifice" as Memorial Day arrives.

Calling Saturday "a day of mixed emotions," Loy told the students, "In the next several minutes, you will all be graduates of Valley High School, and as graduates, you all carry a special bond that will last the rest of your lives. So I implore you to enjoy the moment and treasure the memories and the friendships."

On this "proud day," Loy told parents and families, "You are to be congratulated for your efforts in encouraging, insisting and maybe even prodding to get your child to this point. It was worth it."

He called the senior class a "caring and nurturing" group. "This group of students always seemed to have a great bond with one another. ... They were always there to help each other, other students at this school and students at other schools, and especially those students with special needs."

Loy expressed his appreciation for the VHS faculty and his assistant principal, Randy Darnell, for the guidance and support they offered him and the student body.

To the community at large, he said, "I thank you all for your support, your donations and your voices."

Early in the commencement ceremony, graduate Sally Simpson — with some backup from the audience — sang the senior class song, Bill Withers' "Lean on Me." And, before the students from the Class of 2019 left the gym to embrace the next chapter of their lives, they led the audience in singing the school's alma mater, the chorus which goes, in part:

"Hail we here Valley High School

Hail we here the Gray and Blue

Sing we now our joyous praises

Pledging now ourselves to you."

Email: skeenan@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @gb_scribe

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