A small, but accomplished, group of Forest Heights Academy students graduated on June 15, 2016. During an emotional ceremony the fifteen graduates, which included Valedictorian Hannah Strachan and Salutatorian, Isabella Albury, received sound advice from their Principal, James Richard, their Homeroom teacher Shane Cash, and an FHA alumnus Bradley Albury – who was the keynote speaker.
In spite of the small number of students, the meeting hall at New Vision Church was full with representatives of the Department of Education, parents, friends, and many lower grade students and friends.
Because of the close bonds between the graduates and the audience, the ceremony became a very emotional occasion, as the graduates realized they were turning to a new page in their lives.
Orchestrated by teacher, Leslie Kennedy, the evening began with the singing of the National Anthem and a prayer, followed by the welcome address by Salutatorian, Isabella Albury. She acknowledged and thanked her teachers and her parents for their support, telling the latter that they will always be needed.
It was then turn for Principal Richard to speak to the graduates and true to word, his address was short but impactful. He reminisced on their arrival to the school as shy seventh graders and commented on the changes that took place during the last six years as they matured, ready to “jump into the large, open world.”
He praised their achievements during that period of time outlining all the activities they took part in.
“You are unique and different individuals who are not afraid to speak your mind, but who know that they are a family,” Mr. Richard said.
His final advice was that they make a future for themselves that make them happy, keeping people in mind.
“Do something for your community, even if it is only a gift of your time, but give back. Do something for the ones who are less fortunate. Class of 2016, congratulations and continue to make us proud,” Mr. Richard urged.
The keynote speaker, a former FHA student who graduated nine years ago, is now, he said, doing a job he loves as Editor-in-Chief of ‘The Abaconian’ Newspaper. His wife is also a former graduate of Forest Heights Academy, Jessica Higgs-Albury.
Mr. Albury acknowledged Mrs. Kennedy as his teacher in 2007 and joked how he could remember Mr. Richard when he had a pony tail.
“Visualization is a powerful thing,” he said. “If you want something – take the steps towards it. Network with people. Join Clubs. Carry yourself in a way that you’re able to see over the crowd. Have goals.”
He admonished the graduates that while passion is important following your dreams at the expense of true opportunities can be counterproductive to a happy life.
“You’re not going to write the world’s best-selling novel of all time. You’re not going to invent an iPhone app that makes you a billionaire. ‘Follow your dreams’ is not the best advice. Dreams fade. Shift. They’re not goals.
“Instead take the passion you have chained to your dreams and set it free to your whole life. Opportunities present themselves all the time in places you least expect.”
“Second chances are scarce but regret is very real. What happens when you get to the end of [your life] and look back at all those doors you didn’t open. What was behind them?”
Success is not overnight, he explained. “Success creeps, it builds, it ebbs and flows. And when you’re looking out from the crest of that wave of success you might forget what it felt like at the bottom.” Therefore he explained to destroy your ego and remain humble.
Mr. Shane Cash, the graduates’ homeroom teacher, reached the stage amidst standing applause to give his last lesson. Mrs. Kennedy introduced him as a young man who was proud of his ducklings, as he called his students.
“The advice I have to giv is the same as that of Mr. Richard’s or Mr. Albury’s. In spite of wishing you all the success, you are not entitled to it: you have to work at it. Dreams are different than goals. You have to set your goals; be passionate and be flexible.”
He also reminded them that there will be failures, but the key is to learn why you failed and remember that the people here tonight are your support group.
“It has been a pleasure teaching you. You are really cool. Best of luck.”
In an emotional speech, Valedictorian Hannah Strachan addressed her classmates telling them that they now had achieved the first of their goals and that it was time to go their separate ways. She thanked her teachers and especially her mother, saying that she could not have achieved what she did without her constant support.
The certificates and trophies were then distributed and following the ritual of most graduations, the caps were thrown in the air and the new graduates joined their families for photographs.