06/11/06 — Aycock seniors arrive at bittersweet milestone

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Aycock seniors arrive at bittersweet milestone

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 11, 2006 2:00 AM

PIKEVILLE -- The small black ribbons pinned to powder blue graduation gowns spoke volumes about the Charles B. Aycock Class of 2006. As the graduates crossed the football field and took their seats, some knew their special night would be overshadowed by the pain of losing a dear friend.

Shane Lozier said he was excited about graduating, but had mixed emotions. He couldn't shake the feeling that John Paul Setliff should have walked across that stage.

"Everybody is thinking about him," he said. "He's going to be missed tonight."

Class valedictorian Thomas Williamson shared his grief with the crowd, opening his speech with a few words about the "great loss" of his classmate, who died April 29 from a gunshot wound.

He told those who gathered to celebrate a new beginning that despite their shared grief, the night was meant to be a celebration -- just as John Paul would have wanted it to be.

"I stand here confident that while John Paul would have wanted to be mourned, he would also have wanted us to enjoy this day," he said.

And so, with heavy hearts, the 253 graduates did.

Quaneisha Milner said she is going to miss her teachers, friends and sporting the Aycock jersey for the women's basketball team, but she said she knows it is time to move on.

"I'm feeling ready," she said.

Quaneisha said she plans to take her basketball skills to Fayetteville State in the fall.

Shane is also planning on a few more years of school, but won't forget about Aycock. He will attend Wayne Community College in the fall and plans on returning to help his high school's athletics department.

The graduates were not the only ones with mixed emotions Friday night. Many parents said they could not believe their children had grown up so quickly.

Lisa Stallingsworth and Andy Bass were among them. They came out to see their daughter, Jennifer Johnson, get her diploma.

"It has all happened very fast," Mrs. Stallingsworth said. "I can remember bringing her home from the hospital."

Class salutatorian Alan Toler called the parents in the audience "special people." As he thanked them for helping him and his fellow graduates "along our journey," he turned to his classmates and offered a challenge for the future.

"A person's success is not only measured by his monetary worth," he said. "I hope that each of you have the courage to choose the path that leads to success and true happiness."