TUPELO • One hundred twenty-nine Shannon High School graduates walked the stage Saturday with a mix of hopeful excitement tinged with sadness.

The high school honored the lives of Cam’Ron Billups, Savannah Williams and Jeffery Reynolds, who passed away before they could graduate. A memorial with caps and gowns was set up next to the stage facing the line of seniors who walked to their seats on the arena floor.

Williams died last May due to serious health issues; Reynolds died suddenly last June at North Mississippi Medical Center; and Billups, a lineman for the Shannon Red Raiders football team, died two years ago as the result of an automobile accident.

Shannon High School Principal Jason Arledge said the student body came together in the wake of the loss of its three departed students.

“All three students we lost had an energy and a selflessness that was felt by the community,” he said. “It was a deep loss for the school but our students are resilient and they were able to come together as a family, and it made them stronger individually and as a whole.”

K’maiyus Cayson said he was excited to graduate but said it was sad his friend and former football teammate would not walk the stage with his graduating class.

“He had an impact on the field and in the classroom,” Cayson said of Billups. “Some things you can’t change; we can’t question what God has in store for us and I know he is looking down on us with pride. You just have to keep on pushing forward.”

Jerry Marion was a childhood friend of Billups and recalled playing sports alongside his friend through their years at school. Marion will attend a university in Kansas to study sports medicine.

Marion said his best memories of Billups were hanging out and talking at football practice. He said Billups was a quiet person who came alive around his friends and teammates.

“I’ve always played ball with him from peewees to high school, and he he was always a very sensible, intelligent person,” Marion said.

Tatum Rosenthal said she was excited to graduate high school and looks forward to attending Itawamba Community College. She said her brother, who has Down syndrome, inspired her to pursue a career in special education.

Rosenthal, a friend of Savannah Williams, played softball with her at the high school.

“She always had a smile on her face and she was a great team player,” Rosenthal said.

Valedictorian Shelby Lindsey said the graduating class would always share a common bond.

“From fun on the playground to field trips with friends, from football on Friday nights to time spent in the classroom, through laughter, pain and heartbreak, we have bonded and grown closer together forming friendships that will last a lifetime,” Lindsey said.

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