RISING SUN — With a shout of jubilation and a toss of caps in the air, the Rising Sun High School Class of 2019 ended one chapter and is ready to turn the page.

After four years of friendship, laughter and unforgettable moments, students like Teagan Strauss and Elizabeth Betts took a few moments before graduation to take it all in, and impart some wisdom of their own.

“If there’s one’s thing I’d say to the next class, it’s enjoy it while you can,” Strauss said. “Make a lot of memories and friends.”

“Forgive yourself for past mistakes,” Betts added. “Life’s short, and some friends you’re not going to see again, so take it in.”

Although the 253 students all had different stories to tell, they all shared the same moment in receiving a diploma on a stage on the football field Thursday night.

For some like Betts and Strauss, it was tinged with excitement and anxiety, as the stability of high school was now over.

“I’m not sure what’s in the future,” said Betts, who plans to study mechanical engineering at Louisiana State University.

But others like Cody Downer, who plans on attending Cecil College and eventually transferring to Walnut Hill College, met the change with exhilaration.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I’m going to study mixology, and I’m going to open a restaurant someplace. This is the easiest time for us, with no bills to pay or other responsibilities. Don’t wish it away.”

Some acknowledged the path ahead was difficult, and recommended starting early with college applications, studies and scholarships. Others like Lexi Kozlaski-Gordon, who’s headed off to Coastal Carolina University, had more broad advice like getting outside their comfort zone.

“Join a club or a sport, just do it,” she said. “One of my favorite memories was playing varsity volleyball. It’s not for everyone, but it gets you out there.”

In the end, the Rising Sun High School graduates all endured the perils that come with being a teenager, as well as RSHS culture of Tiger football games and spirit weeks, Class President Jackson Sopa said.

“It’s funny, because graduation is the one day we’ve all been waiting for. Now that it’s here, I don’t know what to do,” Sopa said. “But I think I can speak for everyone when I say we will never forget our time together … We all thought we were having fun, but we were making memories that will last forever.”

Co-Salutatorian Emma Cease said that she sees a bright future ahead for each of her classmates, noting that today was the end of an incredible journey. She intends to meet the next journey with optimism.

“Tomorrow we start the beginning of a future we all worked so hard to achieve,” Cease said. “There will be ups and downs, but I am confident this group of graduates will truly make a difference in the world.”

Her co-salutatorian, Leah Ritchie, declared this class the best that RSHS has ever seen, with great accomplishments made possible by friends, teachers and family.

“We all have unlimited potential to make a great change in the world, so let’s show them what we got,” Ritchie said.

Valedictorian Alexandra Kunkel approached her duties as the last student voice of the ceremony with slight humor. Instead of starting with a quote from Walt Disney, she opted to quote her mother which was “slightly less predictable.”

The quote: “In your car, your rearview and side mirrors are small for a reason.”

“What she means is if you spend too much time looking backward, you’ll wreck or get lost,” she said. “Our accomplishments are important, but it is a time to look to the future with a wide-open windshield and figure out where we’re going.”

While some classmates start a new path with ease or stormy weather, Kunkel said it’s important to take heart from lessons learned from RSHS.

“In these moments of uncertainty, we take leaps of faith, rely on our inner strength, believe in our abilities and learn the most about ourselves,” she said. “While on our paths in life, it’s important to remember that there are always new opportunities ahead.”

RSHS Principal Charles Helm said that while he was three years into his tenure, he was proud to be the Class of 2019’s leader. In a final teaching moment, he asked his students to show up, do the work, ask for help when needed.

“I would encourage and challenge each of you to embrace each opportunity presented to you,” Helm said. “I’m proud of you and I wish you nothing but the best.”

Board of Education Member Christie Stephens congratulated the class for $4.7 million in scholarships to more than 50 colleges, 57 students moving onto technical school, one student going to play semi-professional ice hockey, and 18 who enlisted in the military.

Her final word of advice to the new graduates was to find something to believe in and to stay true to themselves as they continue to grow.

“Take faith. Take heart. Take care. Make for yourself extraordinary lives,” Stephens said.

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