There will be a bit more urgency surrounding two of Fayette County's five public high school graduation ceremonies this weekend.
On Friday, May 10, Oak Hill High students will graduate at 6 p.m. at John P. Duda Stadium (Lilly Center in case of rain), Midland Trail High seniors will accept their diplomas at 7:30 p.m. at the Summersville Arena and Conference Center, and Fayetteville High seniors will walk across the stage for their diplomas at the Fayette County Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building at 7:30 p.m.
On Saturday, May 11, Valley High students will graduate at 10 a.m. at the Neal D. Baisi Athletic Center at the Upper Kanawha Valley YMCA, and Meadow Bridge High seniors will leave high school behind with a noon ceremony in the new gym.
Fayetteville and Valley seniors will comprise the final graduating class of their respective schools, as each school is slated for closure at the end of the current school year.
Like many, senior Alexis Wood cherishes the good friendships she has forged in her time at Valley High.
"I've found a lot of people that care about me, and some ... totally opposite," she said. School has helped her understand the "true meaning of friendship, and who I am."
She says VHS teachers have been supportive and that she's developed good relationships with many of them. Their actions toward and involvement with the students prove they're "not there just for a paycheck," Wood said.
"It's been hard to come to terms with not having a place to go back to (for sporting events, reunions, etc.)," continued Wood, who has attended Valley since her seventh-grade year.
She says that, in the talk about consolidation, current seniors were somewhat lost in the shuffle. "It's been hard to try to finish school," she said.
Wood has taken online college courses through WVU Tech since her sophomore year. Tied for highest class honors with Matthew Moore, she plans to enroll in Tech this fall to pursue a pre-dental biology course of study.
Wood anticipates some jitters this weekend as she delivers a speech before her classmates, teachers, family and friends. "I'm nervous to say good-bye to everybody," she said. "It's scary."
One of the keys moving forward, she stressed, is to "make a point not to lose close contact with your friends."
Fellow graduate-to-be Matthew Moore, who is tied with Wood for the school's top honors, agrees that the 2018-19 senior year has been thrown off the rails at times.
"I think with the school closing, it definitely took away from the year a little bit," said Moore, who's been at Valley since his sixth-grade year. "Sometimes, it was depressing; sometimes, it was good."
Seniors tried to mix it up a little this school year, he said. "We tried to come up with some new ideas. We did things a little different during homecoming, and we tailgated during football season."
His time at Valley High has helped him mature, Moore said. "It's why I've grown into the person I am." Going to class in Smithers helped him develop more of a work ethic, he said. "I worked hard to get where I am."
Moore says he may be "a little bit nervous" when he addresses the crowd at Saturday's commencement ceremony, but "once I get up there and start talking, I'll be fine."
"We're all really excited, spending our last couple of days at Fayetteville," Fayetteville High student body president Konnor Pack said as the outgoing Pirate seniors enjoyed a picnic last week on the school's football field. "Everybody's trying to have as much fun as we can."
At times over the course of the academic year, that was a little difficult.
"It's been a challenging year," said Pack. "We've had a lot of our things taken away from us, like our auditorium, but ... Ms. Scott and the faculty have been really good to us."
Pack plans to attend WVU Tech in Beckley.
But, while able to retain good memories, looking back at FHS will be hard in light of the school closure. In the future, he said he and others will miss the "typical Friday night ... not going to able to experience that."
Fayetteville High "has been like a second family to me," Pack said. He said he gained "lifetime friends" and the school "taught me leadership as a whole."
Luke Vass, a senior classmate of Pack's, said being a product of Fayetteville High "means the world to me."
"A lot of these kids I've grown up with (some since kindergarten)," Vass said. "I've been with these kids for years, whether it's playing sports or having class with them."
At the recent senior class picnic, Vass said, "It's cool for everybody to be here for one last time on this day to just have a good time."
As he and his friends prepare to close the doors of Fayetteville High for good, Vass says, "It's been bittersweet. I think we got to do a lot of cool things with it being the last year that wouldn't have happened if Fayetteville wasn't closing. At the same time, it still sucks. It's just a bad situation for everyone around here, I think.
"But I'm trying to handle it with the best attitude I can, have a positive attitude about it."
The impending closure has made Vass realize one thing, for sure. "It's shown how close the community and town of Fayetteville is; with everything that's going on and what's going to happen, this last year's been real special with all the community's done together."
"Fayetteville High School has meant everything," he added. "I have memories I'll never forget here and I'll always be proud to be a Fayetteville Pirate."
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