Three years ago, a small group of trailblazing students walked into the temporary Orange Beach High School as the first sophomore class. On Tuesday, May 17, they crossed the stage at the Orange Beach …
Three years ago, a small group of trailblazing students walked into the temporary Orange Beach High School as the first sophomore class. On Tuesday, May 17, they crossed the stage at the Orange Beach Performing Arts Center as the first ever graduating class of Orange Beach High School, cementing their class in city history.
Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon highlighted the historic nature of the moment for the class of 2022 during his graduation address.
"There will be many, many graduates walk across this stage in the future but none of them will be the first. You are the first, you will always be the first, and you will always be remembered as the first. So please go out in the world and make a difference," Kennon said.
The Orange Beach High School class of 2022 has another historic distinction. It is the first and last Orange Beach High School graduating class in the Baldwin County Public School system. The city plans to split from the county system this summer and create its own school district.
Members of the Orange Beach High School class of 2022 endured many trials over the past three years. The first was deciding to stay at Gulf Shores High School or blaze a trail into the unknown with the new Orange Beach High School in 2019.
Next, the students endured a worldwide pandemic, the destructive Hurricane Sally that displaced much of the community, school leadership changes, a hailstorm and the birth of the Orange Beach City School System.
With trials come triumphs. The students of Orange Beach High School banded together to help the community rebound after Hurricane Sally by volunteering. They came into sporting events as underdogs and left champions, excelled onstage and in the classroom. In a class of just 35 students, 11 earned the highest Suma Cum Laude honor distinction for having a 4.0 grade-point average or higher. Three earned the Magna Cum Laude honor distinction for having a 3.75 grade-point average or higher and one earned the Cum Laude honor distinction for having a 3.5 grade-point average or higher.
Wes Pouncey, Orange Beach High and Middle School principal took to the podium to announce the evening's three commencement speakers: Miss and Mister Orange Beach and the Mako Scholar.
The Miss and Mister Orange Beach awards are based on the student's commitment and investment during their entire time as students at Orange Beach High School, voted on by the entire faculty and staff, they are considered the best of the best.
The Mako Scholar award is awarded to the student that not only reached the highest pinnacle of academic performance but also served as a role model for all of the underclassmen. Pouncey said it is the highest academic award that the school bestows.
Miss Orange Beach High School, Kira Berona, was the first to take the podium.
"I may have only known you for three years, but I know that each and every one of you is special. I have been awed by the amazing performances onstage and the ability to perform on the field. You were all creative and smart in many ways. Please never doubt yourself. Until recently I was worried about the thought of finishing high school and starting a new chapter. Standing here today, after finishing senior year I am excited to start this next adventure. I know we are ready and have been prepared to create a life of our own. I consider myself lucky to meet each and every one of you and to be a part of this class of 2022," Berona said.
Mr. Orange Beach High School, Jackson Richtmyer, thanked his family, teachers, coaches, the school staff and the community for supporting the entire class of 2022. He chose a quote from the movie "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" to mark the occasion.
"For what it's worth, it's never too late or, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.
"Class of 2022, I am already looking forward to our ten-year reunion because I know that each of us will grow and change and become citizens that will make an impact in people's lives, community and world. One last time as a student, Go Mako," Richtmyer said.
Mako Scholar, Madison Thomas, gave the final remarks.
"It is an honor to be here tonight to represent the class of 2022 as the first ever Mako Scholar. I want to start out by saying how proud I am of everyone for making it this far because we all know it was not always easy. Being the first graduating class, we had a lot of weight on our shoulders. Everyone looked to us to set the standard for many years to come. We used this as an opportunity to make traditions that will last lifetimes and show those that follow us the expectations of an Orange Beach student. Makos strive for excellence in everything that we do. We are kind students that take care of our classmates. And most importantly we work together to make a difference in our school and our community," Thomas said.
After the commencement remarks and recognition of the honor distinctions, Orange Beach assistant principal Scott Cook took the podium for the presentation of candidates for graduation. Former principal Robbie Smith shook each graduate's hand or gave them a hug before they crossed the stage to receive their diploma from Pouncey. Once the diplomas were handed out the students were led down the aisles of the performing arts center and they tossed their caps into the air.
The very first class of Orange Beach High School graduates walked out of the performing arts center to a rousing applause, ready to take on the world.