Emma Claire Butler gave the valedictorian’s address.


By Aila Boyd



Last Tuesday, James River High School graduated 136 students as part of its Class of 2019.

The commencement ceremony was held on the school’s football field.

The graduation marked Botetourt County Public Schools Superintendent John Busher’s final graduation with the division before his retirement.

He explained that the school has always held a special place in his heart because he attended a school exactly the same size. His former school even had the same school colors, sat next to a river, and had a mountain in the background.

Providing the graduates with some advice, Busher touched on where the graduates have been and what their lives will be like going forward.

“You have been under the protection and the guidance of teachers, parents, grandparents, and guardians for the past few years,” he said. “They have worked hard to help you.”

As they enter the workforce, Busher said that they will be interacting with a considerable amount of people with white hair. They won’t be able to collaborate with people their own age, but instead will have to learn how to interact with individuals with more life experience than they have.

“But you’re prepared. You’re ready. I have very good confidence that that’s going to happen,” he said.

Lastly, Busher said that walking across the stage was a “huge achievement.”

“You’re coming from a quality school and a quality school division. Remember that,” he said. “Make sure you’re true to yourself.”

Morgan Rea Bryan, the senior class president, said that she was “confidently proud” of her fellow graduates.

She reflected on the anxiety, excitement, and exhaustion that made up her senior year by explaining that there had been very few fear-free moments for her since school started last August. The college applications, admissions essays, scholarship applications, financial aid documents, and college selection all kept her awake at night, she said.

“When I would think, talk, act, or react, fear always seemed to be there,” she explained.

In order to place the fear that she felt into context, she looked back on the summer before starting high school. She said that as she entered high school, she felt unprepared both academically and socially. After succeeding so effortlessly in middle school, she said that she seemed to struggle with the most mundane tasks because fear had penetrated her so deeply that it was controlling her.

“We like control. It’s in our nature. When faced with the idea of entering a new life transition where almost everything is uncertain and unpredictable, our automatic reaction is to panic,” she said.

During her sophomore year, she realized that she needed to find a “new centering point” for her life because she wanted to live a genuine life instead of one that was driven by artificial goals. As a result, she signed up for multiple clubs and classes that interested her more.

Eventually, she came to feel that the high school was a place that she could call home.

As she reflected back on all four years at James River High School, Bryan said, “I loved every memorable, stress induced minute of it.”

Christopher Ian DeHaven, the salutatorian, started off his speech the same way that he has been starting off the morning announcements that he has been delivering for the past few years by saying, “Let’s get it started.”

As he transitioned into the main message of his speech, he recounted how a teacher had recently told him that he tends to “beat around the bush” with his arguments instead of speaking directly to the heart of an issue.

“I often spend more time looking than leaping,” he explained.

He said that he was reminded of his habit when listening to one of favorite musicians, Billy Joel.

“Through his music, I have been inspired to take a more active role in my life,” DeHaven said. “I’m inspired to move boldly forward as someone who is in charge of their own path, allowing myself to move forward emotionally and not just logistically.”

Joel’s 1976 song “Summer Highland Falls” recounts how he was living in Hollywood at the time but was drawn back to his native New York. DeHaven said that he is feeling a similar pull towards Williamsburg as he pursues his dreams at the College of William and Mary.

“I feel so invigorated that I can leave the drawing board behind and really jump on the experience of life,” DeHaven said of his decision to study in Williamsburg.

DeHaven went on to explain that he’s reminded of another native New Yorker, playwright Jonathan Larson, who “felt that it was important to be bold, believe in yourself, and make the most of the day.”

Lastly, he said that the four years that the graduates attended James River High School have been “truly golden” because they were sheltered from the world. The next phase in their lives, he said, will be challenging, but urged them all to go where their passions are.

Emma Claire Butler, the valedictorian, thanked all of the teachers, parents, and coaches that pushed the graduates to be the best version of themselves throughout their academic careers. “Thank you for your endless amounts of patience,” she said, adding that she had no idea how they managed to deal with them with such tolerance and restraint. “Patience truly is a virtue and an adult superpower.

“Thank you to my classmates who have been my best friends for so long,” she said. “Even though I only attended James River High School for half a day all four years, this class still helped me feel like I was accepted and part of something bigger. I’m so glad to have met all of you.”

She explained that as she was speaking, she felt a mixture of sadness and excitement because of the fact that they were all about to separate, but excited over the fact that they were on the cusp of starting their own lives.

“I am particularly proud to be a part of this graduating class because of how kind, smart, athletic, artistic, and musically gifted this wonderful group of people is. Everyone in the class has something amazing to offer this town, this country, and the world. I’m truly excited to see where everyone ends up,” Butler said.

James River High School Principal Jamie Talbott reported that the graduates had amassed more than $340,000 in scholarships.

During his remarks, Talbott commended the graduates’ leadership abilities and their service to the school and the community.

“To the Class of 2019, we recognize your many accomplishments and the unlimited potential you possess as you prepare to take the next step in life,” he said.

As they enter the next phase in their lives, Talbott encouraged the graduates to keep an open mind, a positive attitude, and a strong work ethic.

“Your happiness and quality of life will be determined by how well you respond to life’s daily challenges,” he said. “Your responses to obstacles and failures will shape your character and lay the foundation for a lifelong learning experience.”

The James River Commencement Band, under the direction of Kevin English, performed the National Anthem and the school’s alma mater. The James River High School Singing Knights, under the direction of Pamela Stump, performed “I Hope You Dance.”

The graduates turned around and gave their friends and family who played a part in their success a round of applause.