A sea of purple and white caps and gowns filled the gymnasium Sunday afternoon as the Class of 2017 said goodbye to Seymour High School and hello to what lies ahead.

Nearly 300 students received their diplomas, with 115 earning an honors diploma and 22 students being named Seymour Scholars.

Class President Addie Rudge welcomed all those in attendance and thanked the crowd for sharing in the milestone.

Rudge said it seemed like graduation would never come as students counted down the years, days and minutes to this final moment.

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“We hoped the time in high school would quickly pass by, that all the studying would pay off,” she said.

But now that it has, saying goodbye isn’t as easy as she thought it would be.

Rudge said she is sorry high school has come to an end, because it means leaving friends, teachers and others who have helped shape their lives.

The Class of 2017 is lucky to have attended Seymour High School though, she added.

“We have all been so privileged to receive the education that we worked for, to make unbreakable friendships and learn the valuable lessons that Seymour High School has been able to teach us,” she said.

When the Class of 2017 first entered SHS four years ago, everything was unfamiliar and uncertain.

Although no one knows what the future holds, Rudge said the diploma each and every one of them earned is the “knowledge, determination and the preparation for whatever is to come next in our lives.”

“Graduation is not an end goal in itself; it is one part of the larger journey of life,” she said. “Wherever your future takes you, the workforce, the military or higher education; let it take you somewhere.”

Having a diploma should not stop anyone from growing and accomplishing more in life, she added.

“As we leave this place and begin the next chapter of our lives, let us tackle every setback with confidence we have gained,” she said. “We now know that we have achieved great heights and we are equipped with the skills to excel in our futures.”

Rudge said the Class of 2017 is capable of making a huge impact on the world and inspiring others to achieve great success.

“Let’s be eager to use what we have learned at Seymour High School for more than landing a job, but for setting an example that hard work does pay off,” she said. “Understand that each day we will have the power to make a difference, so let’s use it well.”

Salutatorian McKenna Curry said it seems just like yesterday she and her friends were in middle school, “wearing those knee-length khakis, sporting the latest Silly Bands and yes, rocking those Crocs that everyone had.”

“Little did we know at that time, that four years later, we would be standing here in a cap and gown almost ready to say goodbye to each other,” she said. “We are going to miss the familiarity of it all.”

But high school does not have to be the best years of one’s life, she added.

“High school was a blast, but we have so much to look forward to in life,” she said. “I truly believe that every one of us will find happiness and success because we are strong-minded, determined and hardworking individuals.

“So, yes, we should consider high school as being some of the best years of our life, but there are great years ahead of us as well,” she said.

As the class of 2017 moves forward, they should never forget high school, Curry added.

“We should not forget the memories we have made in this small town,” she said. “Class of 2017, this is not goodbye, but a see you later.”

Valedictorian Nastya Yakovlyeva jokingly said after four years she was glad to see Principal Greg Prange pronounce her name right.

But she’s also thankful for all the support and encouragement she’s received from him and others in her high school career.

“The overwhelming support and love that each of us receive from our family and friends should not go unnoticed on this special day,” she said.

With 297 students in the Class of 2017, Yakovlyeva said she knows there are classmates with whom she has never spoken, but she still feels a strong connection with the class as a whole.

“Today’s ceremony is not about closing one door and opening another. No, today is about thinking back on all the memories, good or bad, reflecting on all the relationships we have developed and absorbing all the lessons we have learned in order to use our experiences to carve a new, unique path,” she said.

“Regardless of what your future plans are, whether that’s going to college, serving in the military or joining the workforce, I personally wish you all nothing but success and happiness in the future,” she added.

Yakovlyeva said the best advice she ever received was from her mother and she wanted to share that with her classmates.

“She said to me, ‘You have no excuses to not succeed in life.’ It was a simple statement that still resonates deeply within me,” Yakovlyeva said. “We are going to be faced with many situations where we will struggle and we will have to endure and persevere. And if success is what you desire, then you should make no room for excuses.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.