HUNTINGTON — Huntington High School became the second school in the county to host a drive-in graduation Friday evening as cars filled with family, friends and faculty filled the Red Devil high school parking lot.

Everyone tuned into a radio frequency in their vehicles or rolled down their windows to listen in on the speeches and the calling of the names to receive diplomas and say goodbye to high school for the last time.

Class vice president Lindsay Murphy gave the invocation, thanking God for the opportunity to gather together and for giving the graduates the strength to finish their education.

Salutatorian Ethan Collins gave the welcome, speaking about the importance of remembering to treasure important things like experiences and relationships rather than material things like GPA or money.

“Upon receiving the title of salutatorian, I was somewhat unclear as to what my role would be during the graduation ceremony due to the unprecedented nature of events,” Ethan said. “I referenced trusted websites like Wikipedia and Answers.com. However, I found the most reliable source of information to be the Urban Dictionary.

“The definition of salutatorian says it all. Here it is: the smart kid who stayed up way too late to study, drank enough coffee to kill a camel and missed so many parties that everyone thought they were a hermit, only to get second place.”

He said he knew right away that this wasn’t him, and he asked himself if he had let his GPA slide at the expense of fun. However, he said he soon realized that he was comparing a “meaningless number and four years of teenage experience.”

“A lesson that took me three years of my high school career to learn, I give to you now, free of charge: Don’t chase the numbers; follow your passion,” Ethan said. “Some of us will continue our education at college or technical school. We will strive to get that solid 4.0 GPA. Some of us will go to the workforce chasing dollar signs. At the end of your education, GPA is just a number. At the end of the day, money is just a number. And at the end of your life, net worth is just a number.

“Who you are should not be defined by a number but by your character that you develop and the persona that you develop through the human experience. Follow your passions, follow your dreams, follow your heart.”

Valedictorian Samantha Thornton thanked her family, school administration and teachers, community, church family and friends for their impact on her life.

“I’m sure you all feel many different ways about finally graduating and finally moving on to the next stage of our lives,” she said. “For me personally, this day couldn’t have come fast enough, because I’m ready to get out of here. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be some things that I miss, though.”

She listed many sentimental memories that she will miss, including trips to get sushi with friends, silly conversations and games like “Never Have I Ever,” basketball games, tennis practice and more.

“With our senior year getting cut short like that, there were also many other activities and moments that we didn’t get to enjoy,” she said. “We didn’t get to have our senior prom — a moment of silence for those who had already bought their prom dresses — and many students missed out on events like an in-person Spring Show, or end–of–year trips for many of the clubs within our high school. It also seems as though Mr. Stover didn’t get the chance to try to thwart our senior skip day this year because we didn’t get the chance to have it.

“I know that pretty much everyone had some kind of event that was either canceled or moved online. However, we have persevered through it and here we are, finally.”

She spoke of looking on to the future with hope, congratulating her classmates for whatever comes next for them — college, careers, trade schools and military service.

“I struggled a lot trying to figure out what to talk about during this last portion of the speech,” she said. “I feel like we’ve heard all of the usual advice about life after high school hundreds of times by now. We’ve heard all the typical quotes by old dead guys about greatness and success, and personally, I don’t remember any of them. There’s really only one piece of inspiration that I can give you that I truly feel passionate about; and that is that there’s no inherent, predetermined meaning to life.”

She went on to explain that she meant that life has no inherent meaning except what we, as human beings, give it and that it is up to us to determine our purpose and make a fulfilling life.

“That is the meaning of life,” she said. “And that brings me to my advice for all of you — your life is yours, and yours alone. You decide the meaning, and no one can do that for you. Don’t compromise on your identity or on your goals. Do what you want to do in life and be who you want to be.”

To the sound of honking, applause and the flapping of a line of noble American flags in the cool, humid breeze, the seniors of Huntington High School marked the end of their high school career.

Grace Juarez’s email address is grace.juarez@lufkindailynews.com.

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