That special time of year has come again and I’ve found myself doing a little reminiscing. It’s almost as if it happened yesterday and I’ll never forget that feeling I had as I walked into the Ripley Event Center dressed in my cap and gown. It was a feeling of pride and success. I had completed kindergarten through 12th grade and my career as a Ripley Tiger had come to an end.

Even though I had been counting down the days until that moment, it was all so bittersweet. The bittersweetness came when thinking of the teachers, like Mrs. Graddy, Mrs. Brannan and Mrs. Huddleston to name a few, who I would be saying farewell too. It also came as I looked into the faces of all my long-time classmates wondering who I would see again after that night ended.

It wasn’t until I got up to sing a solo during our graduation that I realized what exactly I was feeling. That may sound weird, but I really don’t think I truly understood the change that was about to take place in my life until I looked out from the stage into the faces of the Class of 2011. As I started singing, “I Hope You Dance,” I saw that one of my friends was crying. At first, I wondered what she was crying about. Was she sad, happy or was she just that moved by my beautiful voice? I asked her after our graduation why she was crying and she said, “It’s like I finally realized that everything I know is coming to an end and I’m so scared to think what may lie ahead.”

It all made sense to me when she said those words, because fear was the exact emotion I had been feeling. I was afraid because the life I had known for the past 18 years was about to change in a very big way. I was not only about to say goodbye to teachers and classmates, but also to my family, community and entire way of life. What if I didn’t like college; what if I wasn’t as smart as I thought; and what if I don’t make any new friends? All of these questions started rambling in my head and before I knew it, I was bawling too. Life had happened so fast and I realized I wasn’t prepared to move on like I thought I was. I didn’t know if I had chosen the right major or if I was ready to move out of my mom’s house. People had started asking me questions about things I hadn’t really put much thought into. All I had been able to think about all year long was the fact that I was graduating. I hadn’t asked myself what I wanted to do or be afterwards.

Of course I eventually found my way and with each day started to become more comfortable with who I was as a independent young woman. Even now at 25 years old, there is still so much more learning to do, but I would like to think I have come a long way from that young girl standing on that stage saying her farewell to her home.

I’m sure that some of this year’s graduates are feeling the same way as they take their first steps into the adult world. If there is any advice I could ever pass along to them, it would be to live in the moment and make plenty of mistakes. Enjoy your last few days of high school and be sure to tell the teachers and friends who helped you along the way that you appreciate them. It's okay you don’t have it all figured out. I know people are asking you what you want to major in or what career path you want to take. If you aren’t sure, don’t panic, because this is the time when you will really start to learn who you are as an individual. Everything will fall into place if you work hard, stay focused and stay true to yourself. Enjoy this time because it will always be one of the happiest and most rewarding events in your life. Always strive to be great and hold on to each one of your hopes and dreams. A great writer once said, “You will accomplish all of your hopes and dreams by embracing the thrilling, terrifying and unknowable future ahead of us all.”

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