Family and friends of the Philip Barbour High School class of 2012 gathered under the pavilion and even on the surrounding hills of the Barbour County Fairgrounds to attend an emotional commencement ceremony Saturday.
"A very wise man once said, whether you think you can or you can't, you're right," said Kelsey Bartlett in her class representative address. At the end of her speech, Bartlett said that the quote came from Jesus Christ.
Student Council President Kelsey Toompas made no effort to hide her religious beliefs in her original graduation speech; however, she said she did not believe she would be allowed to do as she first intended.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
Hats are tossed into the air from the heads of 141 graduating seniors of Philip Barbour High School Saturday at the Barbour County Fairgrounds. Additional photos can be found online at cu.theintermountain.com.
"It should be carefully noted that the first amendment says nothing about the separation of church and state," said Toompas prior to reciting her revised speech. Loud cheers from the audience followed her statement.
Toompas said she was told by PBHS Principal Lisa Heinbaugh that student speakers could not give reference to their religious beliefs in a graduation speech. She was also told to do with that information what she would. Heinbaugh said she was simply passing along information provided by powers above her.
"I believe that I do have the right to read my original speech but, respectfully, I will decline," Toompas said, although she had a copy of her original speech in hand.
Heinbaugh asked the audience if there were any objections to hearing "another graduation speech." After no objections were voiced, she invited Toompas to come back up and give her original speech.
"When you come to a hard time in life, put your strength in God," Toompas said when she came back to the microphone.
After reciting her original speech, members of the county Board of Education, Superintendent of Schools Joseph F. Super and other education officials seated on the stage rose to their feet. The graduates and the audience then did the same.
"I have no problem being politically incorrect... one nation under God," Super said when he addressed the graduates.
Two other students also presented speeches during the commencement ceremony.
"I take with me the memory of the three principals and superintendents we have gone through during high school," said Senior Class President Kelsey Keene.
"It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward," said John W. Hawkins II, son of Barbour County Sheriff John Hawkins.
Hawkins placed in the top 10 percent of all West Virginia graduating high school seniors. He has also excelled in athletics.
"For him to be chosen by the school as a commencement speaker to me means he is a good student, and a good friend of the students in his class. To be liked by your peers and teachers is worth more than any award you can be given," Sheriff Hawkins told The Inter-Mountain.
Mary Beth Long sang before the graduating class, and Keene presented the tassel and ring ceremony. The graduates tossed their hats in celebration of being received into the PBHS alumni family.