MOUNT OLIVE -- The shoes with the 5-inch stiletto heels swung from Summer Wilson's fingers.
She wasn't holding them because she was afraid of walking across the Southern Wayne High School graduation stage. She was more concerned they would hurt her feet if she put them on too soon.
"I am just scared my feet are going to hurt before I get there, so I took them off," she said.
But she did put them on and, along with 204 of her classmates, walked across the stage during the school's graduation ceremony held Tuesday night in Kornegay Arena on the University of Mount Olive campus.
Wilson lives across the road from Spring Creek High School and had to get special permission to compete her schooling at Southern Wayne. She had attended Southern Wayne before moving to Seven Springs.
"I had to graduate with my family," she said. "I am pretty nervous. I feel like all of my family is separating. We are going down our own paths. It is a good thing, but I am sad because I am going to miss all of them."
In his closing remarks, DECA president Wuilmer Antonio Velasquez Roblero thanked teachers, staff and parents for pushing classmates to excel at everything.
Graduation is a milestone achievement, he said.
But classmates have a long way to go and more work to do, he said.
"We have made friendships and memories that we will forever keep in our hearts," Roblero said. "I encourage every single one of you to surround yourselves with great friends. The only person you are destined to become is the person you strive to be.
"We are the face of tomorrow, and we can change the future together."
Valedictorian Howard Caudill had some words of wisdom for his classmates from a clutzy regal tang fish, named Dory, "When life gets you down, you know what you gotta do? Just keep swimming, just keep swimming."
Caudill said that two of the most influential movies in his young life were "Finding Nemo" and "Meet the Robinsons"-- both which share a very specific common theme. Nemo the clown fish gets taken and his father, Marlin, goes to find him. There is a scene in "Finding Nemo" where Dory provides the only information that Marlin has to find his son Nemo, an address: P. Sherman 42, Wallaby Way.
Marlin is of course devastated, but in a stroke of brilliance, Dory offers her sage advice, Caudill said.
There is also a scene in "Meet the Robinsons" where Lewis, the main character, is showing this futuristic family, that has taken him in, one of his inventions -- a peanut butter and jelly gun that is supposed to make the process of constructing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich much more efficient.
However, in an utter catastrophe, it fails. Lewis is embarrassed in his failure, but the family is cheering for it.
"One of the family members tells Lewis 'from failing you learn, from success not so much,'" Caudill said. "Another man says 'If I gave up after every time I failed, I never would've made the meatball gun,' and then one lady said the most profound thing that my 7-year-old ears had ever heard, 'keep moving forward.'
"If my point is not clear by now, I am talking about the importance of progression. Life is going to be full of obstacles, full of challenges, full of times that you will not succeed, but the idea is to stay focused and never stop despite those setbacks."
Caudill offered up Thomas Edison as an example.
It took him thousands of tries before he came up with the light bulb, thousands of unsuccessful attempts, with only his passion and determination keeping him on track, he said. Nearly everything that is used in the 21st century society, is because of the progressive mentality of a crazy scientist in the 1800's, he said.
"We all can learn from this mad scientist who never quit," Caudill said.
Looking back over the past 13 years, it is kind of crazy to think that some things in each and every one of the classmates' lives have never changed, salutatorian Christopher Day said.
"Just as the seasons change, there are seasons in our life that change, milestones that we hit along the way of this journey we call life," he said. "Just look back on these past four years."
In the past four years, classmates have obtained their driver's licenses, some have obtained certifications from organizations, while others have traveled the country in pursuit of agriculture, business, technical education, and nursing.
Some of have traveled the state playing football, basketball, soccer, or one of the other sports offered at Southern Wayne High School. Some of have been inducted into national organizations and some have even committed their lives to the military in pursuit of protecting our country and our freedom.
"Class of 2018, over the past 13 years and, more specifically, the past four years, our lives have changed time and time again, and the crazy thing is, it is not over," Day said. "In just a few short minutes, we will be closing a mighty chapter in our journey called high school."
Day told his classmates they should not be sad as they turn their tassels. They shouldn't be sad that the past is ending, but excited that their future is starting.
"So my question today to the class of 2018 and every other family member, teacher, administrator, and friend, who we all thank dearly for contributing so greatly to our lives is as follows: What will you do with the life set ahead of you?"
Day challenged his classmates to go out and grab life by the horns and begin living the amazing plan God has picked out for each and every one of them.
He challenged them to live life and soak up every single moment they possibly can and to become the next generation of men and women that changes this world.
"Class of 2018 there is a whole life out there ready for us, now after 13 years, it's our turn to take it," he said. "So let's go live it."