TUPELO – The largest group of Tupelo Christian Preparatory School graduates the school has ever had gathered at West Jackson Baptist Church Saturday afternoon to receive their diplomas.

The 32 graduates received a combined $1.7 million in scholarship offers, were accepted to more than 26 colleges and had five college athletic scholarships among them.

The other common thread among the TCPS seniors? Excitement.

The students milled around before the graduation ceremony started Saturday, talking about the summer and future ahead of them.

Valedictorian Hannah Rogers has been accepted to the pre-pharmacy program at the University of Mississippi, where she’ll start in the fall.

Rogers’ outlook is confident, despite graduation being bittersweet.

“I’m kind of sad, but I think I’m ready to move on to the next chapter in my life,” Rogers said. “I’ll miss the people a lot, but I’m really excited about college.”

Graduate Dakota Thomas plans to attend Mississippi College in the fall.

Thomas said he’ll miss the security of living at home, and especially the home-cooked meals.

He may have to learn to cook for himself come August, but Thomas said he looks forward to starting college.

“Twelve years of our hard work has finally paid off, and now we get to finally go to college and start a new chapter of our lives and that’s a big deal,” Thomas said.

Rob Pillow, TCPS grad who has attended the school since kindergarten, said he’ll miss some aspects of high school, but he’s ready to move on.

Pillow will also attend Mississippi College in the fall.

“I’m excited,” Pillow said. “I feel relieved.”

Although she and her classmates eagerly await the next steps in life, TCPS salutatorian Nicole Becker took a moment in her speech Saturday to reflect on the memories they all shared together throughout their high school careers.

“We’re a big family,” Becker said. “We’re always there for each other when we need help.”

Becker said putting on her cap and gown Saturday was surreal, but she’s ready for a change.

She plans to attend Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana.

“It came so quickly, and now that it’s here I can’t believe it’s happening,” Becker said.

With all of the changes ahead of them, Rogers decided to make her speech uplifting and encouraging for her fellow graduates.

She encouraged them to “defy gravity,” quoting the musical “Wicked.”

“As we move on from high school, we need to learn to spread our wings and fly,” Rogers said.

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