By Heather Bell
RADFORD – More than 120 Radford High School seniors became graduates Friday in a ceremony held at Radford University’s Bondurant Auditorium.
The night was filled with hope, happiness and triumph as well as poignant moments as speakers reflected on the effects on the class of COVID-19, school violence in the U.S., and a classmate who passed away this year as the result of a car accident.
RHS Principal Tara Grant presided over the ceremony, offering praise and advice to the graduates and words of remembrance about Marilyn Alley, a member of the Class of 2022 who died in a car wreck. Alley’s sister accepted a diploma on Marilyn’s behalf. Superintendent Robert Graham said Alley’s death and navigating high school through a pandemic are among the trying occurances the class has had to traverse.
“You made it,” he said to the graduates. “And you made it under extraordinary circumstances. And you excelled at an extremely high level.”
RHS had a 98.5 percent graduation rate this year, which Graham said is among the highest the school has ever experienced. The graduates have earned more than $1,783,000 in scholarships.
“Adversity breeds character and strength, and I could not be more proud of your accomplishments,.” Graham said.
Class President Anna Turk, who will attend Randolph Macon College to study nursing and will play on the women’s soccer team, also addressed the graduates.
“As we transition to this new life, I want everyone to take something away from today,” she said. “Take your time. Appreciate the little things. And be kind. Be like Marilyn.”
RHS government teacher and baseball coach Drew Cox, also an RHS graduate, was chosen by the class to be the commencement speaker. He lauded the class as a “talented and resilient group” whose “high school experience was anything but ordinary.”
Friday’s ceremony included the presentation of the annual King Award, given to one boy and one girl in the graduating class who represents scholarship, leadership, and citizenship and contributions to their fellow students and their school. The award is given by the James P. King family and includes $1,000 to each winner and a pewter julep cup. This year’s winners were Lianna Marie Almeida and Tyrel Dobson. Almeida is attending the University of Denver to study international relations, and Dobson is attending Virginia Military Institute to study business and play football on a full athletic scholarship.
The class valedictorian is Michael Hijduk, who graduated with a 4.4839 grade point average (GPA), and is attending the University of Virginia to study computer science. He urged his fellow graduates to take the time to forge and maintain relationships in life and to “strive for excellence but don’t let perfection get in the way of progress.”
Salutatorian Imran Akhundov graduated with a 4.375 GPA and is attending Washington and Lee University to study neuroscience and pre-medicine.
“I’m graduating with the best class anyone could have asked for,” he said. “In life there will always be obstacles. Do not be afraid of a challenge. Go out into the world and embrace everything it has to offer.”
Friday’s ceremony had to be moved to Bondurant Auditorium from Bobcat Stadium due to rain.