It was a beautiful night — a light breeze, 75 degrees — perfect for an outdoor gathering. About 3,000 family members and friends came together Thursday evening to share in the final ceremony for the 2006 graduating class of Duncan High School.

Over 220 red-robed students lined up on the track of Halliburton Stadium, making last-minute cell phone calls and hanging over the fence for one more hug before the band began the familiar “Pomp and Circumstance.” The crowd rose to its feet as the seniors began their single-file march.

Once seated, all were cheerfully welcomed by Whitney Cox. In a theme that was repeated throughout the night by several young speakers, she thanked those who had guided them to this milestone. “Thanks for giving us our wings.”

During a recognition of senior parents, Meredith Branch read a poem about how quickly a child grows up. It spoke of how time passes “in the blink of an eye” — about as long as it took her to read the poem.

The graduates had a special presentation to make, wishing to honor the memory and life lessons taught by Destry Horton, a firefighter who died in March from injuries suffered while fighting fires in Stephens County. Ashlee Cook called Horton’s widow, Brandy, and two daughters, Kylie and McKenzie, to the stage and presented $750 each for the girls’ college funds.

“It is our hope you will grow and learn to live with love, hope and faith,” Cook told the youngsters.

Noting the lack of a single speaker, Matthew Cox said no address would be made by a politician or celebrity at this commencement. More appropriately, he said, the speakers would be the politicians or celebrities of the future — members of the Class of 2006.

Cox also pointed out that having four members of the class give the special addresses was also better because “we work for free.”

Jared Smith’s task was to speak of the importance of having a positive attitude and outlook. He did so by example, momentarily losing his place but cheerfully pushing forward with his glass half empty/half full parable.

Smith finished with a Bible quote from John 4 and advised, “If you are empty, go to Jesus. If you are full, thank God for your blessings.”

He also invoked Monty Python — “Always look on the bright side of life” — and left the stage whistling.

Keyorie Mayfield then spoke on the impact of teachers, family and friends. Even when the breeze spirited away a page of her speech, Mayfield continued with her praise of the teachers whose wisdom and passion had been an inspiration.

“Our parents have told us we can do anything and, thanks to our teachers, we can,” she said.

Friends was the topic addressed by Jenna Bethany. She pointed out that many in the class had been friends since kindergarten and that a friend is one who holds you up in the bad times and makes the good times better.

Bethany had an answer for the age-old parental question: If your friends all jump off a bridge, would you?

“I would not follow them,” she said, “but I would be at the bottom to catch them when they fall.”

“Duncan has been good to us — the world will not be as kind,” Bryan Hughes said, as he discussed morals and principles.

He recommended three traits to cultivate: Love of self and being who you are; treating everyone with equal kindness; and knowing one’s place, putting God first and the interest of others second.

Hughes said loving life would help them find happiness and peace of heart.

In the only comments delivered by an adult, Shelly Lovelace performed her last duty as principal of DHS and declared the members of the Class of 2006 to be graduates. Her pronouncement was greeted with an eruption of beach balls and silly string.

The light-hearted mood continued through the next 45 minutes as the name of each graduate was called out by Amanda Stewart and Chris Morris, incoming presidents of the senior class and Student Council, respectively.

The enthusiasm of the crowd never waned. Clapping, shouting of names and air horn salutes of varying degrees greeted each senior as he or she crossed the stage in a loosely alphabetical order.

Edmond Culberson literally danced across the stage to accept his diploma.

A black and white dog snuffled about the football field and a plastic shark occasionally bobbled above the red mortarboards.

The brief, final comments were from Courtney Watkins, the 2006 Crossman Award winner. She thanked the teachers, community and families for always being there.

She quoted 1 Timothy 4:12 and then exclaimed, “We made it!”

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