Seniors at Franklin County and Western Hills high schools will walk across the stage at Alltech Arena on Saturday to receive their diplomas.
During the ceremony at the Kentucky Horse Park in Fayette County, the high schools' senior class presidents will address the audience with reflections on their classes' high school experiences and advise classmates on the road ahead.
Western Hills High School
Kathryn Gay, Western Hills High School's senior class president, recalled that when she was a sophomore in an oral communication class, some of the seniors at the time prepared their own graduation speeches for the class. The class helped her prepare for her own graduation speech that she will give at Western Hills' ceremony on Saturday.
Gay drew from her own high school memories when writing her speech. She was a member of the Kentucky YMCA's Y-Corps, a program in which students raise money for the YMCA's scholarship fund and are rewarded with a multiday service trip across the country or the commonwealth. During the trip, the students listen to and reflect on Kentucky poet Wendell Berry's poem "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front." In the poem, the speaker gives advice to the reader about living a life in service to the world around them. Gay hopes that the audience at graduation will be able to find lines that they can connect with themselves.
"I don't love poetry, but it is the only poem that spoke to me. Every time I've read it, I've found something new to base my life on," Gay said. "I'm focusing on a line that says: 'Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.' It is based off what our world is seeing right now with climate change ... and how we can't please ourselves anymore. We have to 'invest in our millennium' or the 1,000 years, not just the 100 years that we look at normally."
Gay said she ran for class president knowing the speech would be something that she was expected to give, but she also wanted to give her class the best possible prom and homecoming dances. Gay has always been in class with the peers she is graduating with on Saturday, so it will be a little weird to not see them almost daily after the ceremony. She said that they are ready to leave.
Gay plans to attend the University of Kentucky in the fall and major in either environmental science or accounting. Either way, she wants to work with the Earth, she said. Even though UK is only about 45 minutes away, it is still a "little scary" to leave Franklin County.
Her advice to younger students is to be as involved as you can in school and not take easy classes.
"You're going to be bored and it won't help you for college," Gay said. "And live your life."
Franklin County High School
Franklin County High School senior class co-presidents Julia Blackburn and Allen Slaughter will both give speeches during their class' graduation ceremony on Saturday. Blackburn plans to reflect on the class' time in high school and how it will benefit the graduates in the future, while Slaughter "wants to keep things lighthearted" with his speech.
"I really want to focus on the legacy that we've made here at our time in high school and how we can bring everything we've learned here into the next chapter of our lives, and continue to grow and be successful and move on into that new stage," Blackburn said.
Slaughter will base his speech around advice that senior class sponsor Terry Johnson gave students at the beginning of the year: Be humble and be giving to others. Both co-presidents said that Johnson's advice is among the best they have ever received. Slaughter has been to a few FCHS graduations as he is a band student and performs during the ceremonies. He said that for him, graduations have always been "a very wonderful moment," and hearing from graduates what they learned in high school has impacted him.
"Hearing what they have learned these past four years and even this past year, has been very impactful, because it not only helps his or her classmates but it helps everyone in that arena to learn something valuable, whether it is something new or something to refresh on," Slaughter said.
Blackburn said that she has been excited to graduate and get out in the "real world" all year. However, as time gets closer to the moment she will walk across the stage, she is getting a little more emotional than she expected. She is grateful to be a student at FCHS because she has had many opportunities to grow as a student. She said that she thinks she wouldn't have had all of those experiences at a different school.
"Franklin County has been so good to me and provided me with a lot of opportunities to learn, just in my classes and extracurricular activities and volunteer opportunities," Blackburn said. "It's just been a fun four years."
Slaughter said that graduating will be a big change for him. He's used to the routine of waking up in the morning, heading to school and then coming home at night to do homework, but he will also miss the familiar faces around him.
"Even 10 years down the line, these past four years have just meant so much to me. I've learned very valuable lessons, and the people here are some of the most genuine and respectful students you'll ever meet. I'm thankful to have been a part of their class," Slaughter said.
As for what's next, Slaughter plans to go to the University of Kentucky and major in business management with a pathway in Gatton Global Scholars that focuses on international business. He will minor in music performance for trombone and be part of the university's marching band and Lewis Honors College.
Blackburn will attend the University of Louisville and major in biology and visual arts with a minor in political science to set herself up for a career in medical illustration. She has also been named a McConnell Scholar at the university.