The 2014 graduating class of Velma-Alma High School received diplomas on Thursday night and paid homage to a classmate who wasn’t there.
During the roll call of 21 seniors who were called to the stage, the name of Braylee Rae Henry also was invoked, drawing sustained applause from the estimated 400 spectators gathered inside J.M. Carey Field House.
Minutes earlier, when parents were recognized during a rose ceremony, a dozen or so members of the class each walked up a stairway to the upper reaches of the gymnasium to present a rose to Renee Henson, Henry’s mother, who lost her 16-year-old daughter in a brutal slaying on June 6, 2012, in Velma.
There were no speeches or other acknowledgements of the tragic loss of Henry during the commencement exercise.
Melinda Childress, a counselor at the school, said anything the school has done in connection with Henry’s death has been done without great fanfare or publicity. On Tuesday, during the class awards ceremony, the seniors presented Henson with a memory book and a class photo, Childress said.
Despite the tragedy, the seniors who addressed the crowd expressed hope for the future and gratitude for the guidance given by the faculty and administrators of the rural school district.
“There’s no place else I would rather go to school,” said Jordan Layn, co-salutatorian of the class. Her fellow salutatorian, Teddi Southerland, told her classmates that graduating high school is “one of the greatest accomplishments in life.”
Sidney Lewis, valedictorian of the class, urged her classmates to change the world.
“Carry with you everything this place has taught us,” she said in her speech. “Show them nothing is impossible, especially for a Comet.”
The commencement address was delivered by Greg Pierce, the superintendent of Pontotoc Technology Center in Ada, a Velma-Alma alumnus. He told the students education doesn’t end at their commencement.
“It’s a lifelong process,” he said.
VELMA SENIORS 2014
Braylee Henry (in memory)