The 50th graduating class at Nathanael Greene Academy is officially in the books.
The class of 2020 was recognized Monday, June 15, in a ceremony held at NGA’s Rhodes Field. The ceremony marked the 50th commencement ceremony in the history of the private school, which opened in 1969.
NGA’s graduating class consisted of seven members. Sean Brown, Chase Crumbley, Logan Gentry, Stephen Ricci, Matthew Rutherford, Kelsie Scott and Ty Webb received their diplomas during the celebration.
This year’s ceremony was unique for multiple reasons. The class graduated later than normal thanks to social distancing guidelines caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. NGA graduation normally happens in its gym instead of the football field but, because a large crowd was expected, the ceremony was moved outside due to the coronavirus measures. And, this year, the school recognized its kindergarten graduates during the main graduation ceremony.
Five kindergarteners – Aiden Benkoski, Emma Cowherd, Caroline Finch, Abby Manders and Owen Simeroth – graduated to the first grade.
Following the kindergarten portion, Webb delivered an invocation. Gentry welcomed the audience and Ricci introduced Brown, the 2020 salutatorian.
Brown addressed his classmates and acknowledged the unprecedented nature of their senior year. They were forced to participate in distance learning the last few months thanks to the coronavirus. As such, Brown declared their senior year “unfinished.”
“We entered our senior year with the high hopes and excitement that most seniors have to put on a capstone of their high school life,” Brown said. “But piece by piece, this year has had a feeling of being unfinished. ... No trip to the state capitol. No running down the halls with the whole school cheering. No true celebration of the culmination of our high school life. No closure. No completion. We lost our senior year. It’s just unfinished.”
Brown offered pieces of advice to his classmates, including a quote from Rocky Balboa, about how they can respond to the challenges they faced this year. He urged the graduates to react in the right manner.
“Someone once said that losing builds character, that adversity builds character,” Brown said. “I totally disagree. It’s how you respond to losing that matters. It’s how you respond to adversity that builds character.”
Crumbley, the valedictorian, spoke next. Like Brown, Crumbley pushed for his classmates to keep their heads up despite the current circumstances.
“The class of 2020 has seen a lot of changes during these difficult times,” Crumbley said. “But through it all, there’s always hope to hold on to. ... Seniors across the whole country have all faced some of these same difficulties. All we can do is make the best of this hard time and keep moving forward.”
It is important to develop that attitude during difficult situations, Crumbley said, because challenging times will always be a part of life.
“Throughout life, there will be ups and downs. There will always be highs and lows and there will always be failures and successes,” Crumbley said. “Through every one of these moments, we have to keep trusting, keep praying, and keep pushing toward our goals. It is more important than ever to not lose faith in these times, for these times are when our faith is most needed.”
When Crumbley finished his speech, Brown joined him at the microphone. The two friends shared with those in attendance what the class of 2020’s future holds.
Rutherford will attend Augusta Technical College. Gentry will attend Athens Technical College, as will Scott. Ricci will enter the U.S. National Guard while Webb plans to work for his family’s business. Brown will attend Kennesaw State University and Crumbley will attend the University of North Georgia.
Scott introduced guest singer Elliott Lindsey, who performed “The Halls of Ivy” and “Graduation Day” in honor of the late Neal Dolvin.
The guest speaker was Zippy Duvall. Duvall graduated from NGA in 1974 and currently serves as president of American Farm Bureau.
While recalling some of his and his family’s memories at NGA, Duvall told the graduates that they should always work hard to build relationships. They should have great courage, too, Duvall said, no matter what they face.
Duvall said he would have been nervous speaking in front of the crowd during his days at the school. Now, after life took him to positions where he speaks in front of thousands and is an advisor to the president, Duvall no longer has that issue.
He told the graduates that they could experience the same type of growth and change in themselves.
“You never know where God’s going to take you,” Duvall told the graduates. “You never know what door he’s going to open. Don’t ever not go through it. If God opens it, he opened it for a reason. If somebody tries to shut it in front of you, stick your foot in it. Worm your way through it because he made you, and the only way you’re going to become what he expects you to be is if you follow him.”
Ricci and Gentry took the podium next to recall some of the graduates’ favorite memories throughout the years. Afterward, Crumbley and Brown performed a rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “All I Can Do Is Write About it.”
Finally, Crumbley played the school’s alma mater on piano while the other graduates locked arms and sang along. They all then gathered on the field and tossed their graduation caps into the air as they celebrated the completion of this stage in their lives.