The 15 graduates of the Medora High School Class of 2017 traded years of hard work Friday night for the next chapter in their lives.

“Experiences are out there waiting on us, and now that we are graduating, we have the opportunity to go find them,” Valedictorian Ashley Johnson said during the school’s 117th commencement in the gymnasium.

“Life is an experience,” Johnson said. “It’s constantly changing, constantly moving and the things we do and see are what makes us who we are. We may be leaving Medora High School, heading home from school one last time, but nothing is ending.

“Instead, something is starting. After today, our world is opening up. We’re going on to do bigger and better things.”

She said some of her classmates were going on to college to seek out a degree, while others would be going to work to provide for themselves and their families.

“Either way we are going to keep learning,” she said.

Johnson is one of those who plans on going to college.

“I am going to Indiana State at Terre Haute to get a Bachelor of Arts,” the 17-year-old said. “And hopefully get a job in graphics design after that.”

Johnson said she was just a little nervous about graduation and life after high school.

“I’m really excited to go to college after this,” she said.

Classmate Preston Wilkerson, on the other hand, is going to enter the workforce.

“I plan on working with my dad in mechanics,” the 19-year-old said.

His father owns his own auto repair business, and Wilkerson has had his post-graduation plans in place for some time now.

“I struggled just a bit, but I pulled through and got to the end of it,” he said of graduating.

Wilkerson said there’s not much he will miss about not going to school anymore except not seeing his friends every day.

Classmate Brandon Moore, 19, also has some tentative plans in place after graduation.

“I’m going to go work,” he said. “I already have a job. I’m a machine operator.”

In the future, he may look at a career in the military, he added.

Co-Salutatorian Kaitlyn Ann Stewart said in her address the class faced a lot of obstacles along the way.

“All I know is that whatever each and every one of us decides to do in the future, we should surround ourselves with positive you to become a better you,”Stewart said.

Destiny Cheyenne Barr, the other salutatorian, told her classmates to cherish the day.

“Be proud of yourself for this huge accomplishment,” she said. “Smile because you just got to spend the last 13 years with people that make it hard to say goodbye.”

School board President Joe Campbell said past Medora graduates have been successful and there’s no reason the 2017 graduates won’t have the same success.

“There’s opportunity for everybody,” he said. “Every graduating class has lots of success stories.”

He said he would put Medora up against any school in the state of Indiana in terms of what the students and teachers have done.

“It’s amazing and it gets better and better every year, but without the community and its involvement and support, everybody, it makes it possible,” Campbell said. “It’s all about student involvement.”

Johnson’s advice for younger students?

“It’s really about keeping going,” she said. “Don’t give up. Keep doing your homework. Sometimes you are going to fail your test or it will seem impossible to get it done, but you just have to keep trying.”

Johnson’s mom, Lisa Johnson, said she was really proud of her daughter.

“She’s worked hard for it,” she said.

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Aubrey Woods is editor of The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at awoods@tribtown.com or 812-523-7051.