Hannah Harris is the valedictorian of the Lord Botetourt High School Class of 2019.

By Aila Boyd


Lord Botetourt High School held its commencement exercises for the Class of 2019 last Monday night at the Salem Civic Center.

In total, 231 students were awarded their diplomas.

Student Council Association (SCA) Vice President Matthew Smith led the Pledge of Allegiance, which was followed by SCA President Sophia Barranco’s opening remarks. She thanked “every parent, family member, and friend,” who “loved and supported” them throughout their academic careers. She also thanked the staff members who played a part in guiding them.

“It seems like just yesterday that we were walking into the doors of Lord Botetourt High School as freshmen. We were told hundreds of times that the next four years would go by in the blink of an eye, but of course we never believed it,” Barranco said. “Now, here we are– graduating from high school and heading onto the next chapter of our lives.”

She said that although high school was a unique experience for all of them, they all share in the experience of being graduates of the 2019 Class of Lord Botetourt High School.

“Our time at Lord Botetourt has provided us with unforgettable memories and friendships that will last a lifetime,” Barranco said. “These last four years have also prepared us for our futures. I have no doubt in my mind that we will all do great things.”

Superintendent John Busher noted that the graduation ceremony last Monday would be the last Lord Botetourt High School graduation that he would take part of as the superintendent of the school division.

“The last four years for me have been great,” Busher said, speaking of the period of time that he has served as superintendent after coming out of retirement in order to fill the post. He also cautioned that his upcoming retirement will “stick” unlike the last one.

Having clicked his heels at the Senior Awards Ceremony the week before, Busher did the same at the graduation ceremony. He said that several students had asked him if he would recreate the move for their graduation. He obliged, but warned the crowd that he only planned on doing it once, so they should video the move in order to savor it.

He then went on to recount a discussion about generational differences that occurred at the graduation ceremony at the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School.

“It has always been my believe that children are basically all the same when they’re born,” Busher said. “What changes us is the society, the culture, and the environment that’s around us.”

He noted how being a baby boomer has impacted his life. He specifically touched on growing up with television and rock and roll and being drafted into the military.

The generation that all of the graduates belong to, Busher explained, has been heavily influenced by the September 11, 2001 terrorists’ attacks. As a result of that experience, he said, the generation is known as being optimistic and focused.

“In a few hours all of you will be embarking on your next world. You’ve known nothing but the walls of Lord Botetourt for the past four years,” Busher said. “No matter where you go in your career, tonight you listen, pay attention, think before you act.”

Busher cautioned students to be mindful of how they utilize technology. Unlike other generations, they have grown up always knowing the Internet. As a result, they aren’t as mindful of the impacts of it.

He ended his remarks by stressing to parents and guardians that just because their students had graduated, their jobs were not complete.

“If anything, you need to be more aware and involved in their life more than ever because there aren’t going to be teachers and administrators watching their day to day activities,” Busher said. “Keep in touch with them. Listen to them. Talk to them. They’re entering a time that is probably more dangerous than ever.”

Lord Botetourt High School Principal Andy Dewease noted that this year’s graduation was especially poignant because the year that the graduates started at the high school as ninth graders was also his first year as principal. Also, it was special because his son, Jacob, was among the graduates.

“This is certainly a class that is special to me, one that I will always remember,” he said.

He explained that 2006, the year that the graduates first started kindergarten, feels like it was just yesterday.

“While I’ve been honored to be your principal, I take a lot of pride in being your mentor and your friend,” he said. “I’ve watched you grow into dependable young adults.

He ended his remarks by leaving the graduates with three final thoughts: create good habits, don’t be afraid to fail, and always be honest.

“Sow a thought, reap an action. Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny,” Dewease said, quoting author and educator Stephen Covey.

Hannah Harris, the valedictorian, cited the poem “If” by English journalist Rudyard Kipling as striking a chord with her feelings about graduation.

The poem reads in part, “If you can dream—and not make dreams your master. If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim. If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.”

She noted that the assumption that a dream is synonymous with a goal is false because “dreams are wonderful,” but “dreams can change and can morph into something different.”

Harris went on to explain that dreams change and that it’s important to set goals accordingly.

“It’s okay to lose passion for what once consumed every moment of every day. It is necessary and good to realize so and surrender the dead goal before it chokes the life from your dream-driven heart,” she said. “Let it go. You’ll have another dream. You’ll go starry-eyed and wanderlust yet again and the cycle will resume. I promise, one day, your goal will be seen to completion.”

She ended her remarks by touching on a TED Talk given by the author of “Eat Pray Love,” Elizabeth Gilbert. “And if you should someday, somehow get vaulted out of your ‘home’ by either your great failure or great success, then your job is to fight your way back to that home the only way that it has ever been done, by putting your head down and performing with diligence and devotion and respect and reverence whatever the task is that love is calling from you next,”  she cited from Gilbert.

Urging her fellow graduates to find what they love, Harris said that if they happen to lose their love in any of the highs or lows of life, that it’s their job to find it again because it will be worth it.

Jenna Alam, the salutatorian, said that aside from being unprepared for the “anxiety ridden walk across the stage,” the one other thing that she and her fellow graduates were unprepared for was time.

To illustrate the point, she explained that adults often tell younger people that before they know it, they will be rocking on their front porch watching their grandchildren playing.

“Cherish the memories you made in high school and continue to live in the moment,” she said.

She added that she hopes they will all stay connected, but will feel free to break free in order to find themselves.

“I challenge all of you to follow your curiosity even if it leads you way outside of your comfort zone,” she said.

Dewease, Assistant Principal Rob Campbell, and Assistant Principal Debbie Harris presented the diplomas to the 231 graduates.

The honors presented to the graduates included: gold tassel-3.5 GPA or higher, silver cord-4.0 GPA or higher, blue and gold cord-National Honor Society, red, white and blue cord-military, fire, or rescue services, pink cord-Tri-M Music Honors Society, purple and silver cord-National Technical Honor Society, rainbow cord-National Art Honor Society, Governor’s Scholar Medallion-associates degree.

It was later noted that more than $1.5 million was awarded to the graduates to attend both two- and four-year institutions.

Emily Overbay, Alysia Sanchez-Huerta, Hannah Deter, and Allyson Norwinski served as junior honor marshals. Holly Acker, Spenser Eason, Alexis Haston, Jordyn Kepler, Desirhea West, and Michael Pigeon served as junior honor ushers.

The Lord Botetourt High School Band and the Cavalier Singers provided music for the ceremony. The band was directed by Chris Caldwell. The Cavalier Singers, which performed a rendition of “The Climb,” was directed by Joel Bremner.