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Eagles’ class of 2024 celebrates sunrise into future
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With the sun beginning to set over Sharp Stadium on May 23, graduates of Eastside High School celebrated the sunrise of their future.

On Thursday, 367 graduates heard their names called to receive their high school diplomas. The group marched in at 8 p.m. with thousands in attendance filling up the stands in excitement.

As “Pomp and Circumstance” faded away, Brianna Leverett welcomed everyone to the official start of graduation.

Following the pledge of allegiance and special introductions, Jordan Nealy delivered her salutatorian address.

Nealy stressed that her time at Eastside has felt like family as she wished her fellow classmates well moving forward. She reminded her peers that this is just the beginning for them as they embark on their future.

“The beginning of your life that is ending as you cross this very stage today is just the prologue to your story,” Nealy said. “There is so much more for you and it starts right now.”

Valedictorian Emma Oftedal then took the stage to deliver her valedictorian address.

Oftedal reminded her fellow graduates to be “selfish” in basking in their accomplishments, symbolizing the importance of graduating high school.

In summarizing her high school experience, Oftedal cited the poem Catullus 85, which translates to the dueling emotions of “I hate and I love.” She left her classmates with one final message.

“If you recall nothing else from me today, I hope you remember – To in the darkest black, seek out a light. And in all the hate, seek out the love,” Oftedal said. “Because, as always – one final time – You are loved. You are not alone. And you make it a great day to be an Eagle.”

Principal and CEO of Newton College and Career Academy (NCCA) Chad Walker took the stage to recognize those who attended NCCA, as well as the NCCA STEM associates.

“To the NCCA graduates, each one of you are amazing individuals,” Walker said. “It’s been an honor to be a part of your lives. You are the driving force that keeps NCCA a special place.”

Assistant principal Bart Buff broke down some of the statistics of the class of 2024.

According to Buff, 295 students have completed one or more pathways of study while in high school. Ninety-nine graduates will enter the workforce or an apprenticeship training program. A total of 18 graduates are enlisted in the armed forces. 

The larger part of the class – over 250 students – will attend college in the U.S., with 207 of those students attending in-state universities. A total of $19.3 million was earned in scholarship money.

The floor was then turned over to Eastside principal Jeff Cher who commended the class of 2024 on their leadership skills through the tough times they faced, which included the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As you gaze upon these graduates, you are looking at the graduating class that has demonstrated leadership far and beyond other graduating classes that I have personally witnessed in my 26 years at Newton County Schools,” Cher said. “They have triumphed from an initial freshman year that was bizarre, chaotic and challenging and they have created a new standard of what student leadership and ownership looks like.”

This year was particularly special for Cher as he discussed his own personal connection to the class of 2024 – his daughter, Layna.

“To my daughter, I’m proud of you. I love you for who you are,” Cher said while holding back tears. “I’m excited for your future and I’m eternally grateful for the blessing that you have been to our family and to this world.”

From there, each graduate heard their name as the sun continued to set.

Following a confirmation of graduation from superintendent Dr. Duke Bradley III, Nikia Smith led the class of 2024 in the turning of the tassel, signifying the end of their high school career.

With night time fully upon the crowd, the graduates then celebrated amid fireworks and pyrotechnics, signifying the proverbial sunrise of their post high school future.

PHOTO GALLERY: Eastside High School Class of 2024 Graduation