South Brunswick High School’s 2019 graduates survived more than just 12 years of classes to make it to their graduation ceremony Saturday morning at the Odell Williamson Auditorium on the Brunswick Community College campus.

These seniors survived a devastating Hurricane Florence at the start of their senior year and the death of a classmate during their junior year.

Parents and family gathered to watch and celebrate as 264 South graduates received their diplomas during the 90-minute graduation exercise at BCC.

In her farewell address, South valedictorian Alexis Brooke Bailey paid tribute to classmate Casey Michael Mylod, who died in August 2017 in an Oak Island house fire along with his father, Edward Michael Mylod.

“We miss you Casey, and our thoughts and prayers are continuously with the Mylod family,” said Bailey.

Casey was a rising junior when tragedy struck, and his name appeared in the program Saturday with the graduates. When his name was called out on stage by assistant principal Natalie Brozy, there was a moment of silence in the auditorium to remember him.

But Saturday was also a time to give thanks and to celebrate.

Bailey paid tribute to South’s teachers and said the school will now become the home of tomorrow’s teachers, doctors, writers, artists and so many other incredible careers.

“We’ve all had our last first day, our last sports game, our last music performance, our last art show, our last exam,” Bailey told her fellow graduates. “But as many lasts as our senior year has been filled with, it has been filled with so many firsts – our first college acceptance, our first glimpse into our future workforce, our first scholarship acceptance, and even today, which for many of us will be our first goodbye to the names and faces that have completed so many memories over the past four years. Today, we say goodbye to so many influential people.”

Bailey assured her fellow seniors that although the future for them may seem scary, it will no doubt be filled with success.

“But now that it’s here, we’re kind of unsure – filled to the brim with trepidation of what’s to come in the next few years,” said Bailey. “But the best advice I can give you is to look back on these years with happiness and joy, but more importantly, to look to the future with excitement and tenacity. This is our time. Congratulations.”

South Brunswick principal Chip Hodges noted it was a special day for not only graduating seniors, but for their parents as well. He presented the diplomas while assistant principals Brozy, James Simmons and Dr. Jonathan Deberry introduced each senior by name.

“This is a special day for you, and this day is a memory you will carry with you forever,” Hodges told the class of 2019. “This is a special day for the parents of our seniors as well. We know how much this day means for each of you. You have invested a lot of time, effort and money to help your student reach this point. The excitement that everyone feels this morning is expected and well deserved.”

The 2019 senior class is leaving behind a gift to the school. Sophia Rupkalvis, SBHS Student Council lead senior representative, announced the 2019 senior class gift will be two large recycling bins to be placed in the school cafeteria to collect recyclables, “to promote future generations of Cougars to protect our environment.”

In her address, South Brunswick salutatorian Reagan Laura Dumproff thanked her teachers for allowing her to flourish in the classroom and for teaching her about the human experience.

“Looking back at the past four years here at South brings me joy and nostalgia,” Dumproff told her fellow graduates. “I remember walking the halls of South as an eighth-grader, wearing my navy shirt that we were all forced to wear, and wondering how I was going to make it through high school. I walked into my freshman year more nervous than I had ever been. I used my map to guide me to my first ever class of high school.”

Sophomore and junior years were also filled with both stressful and exciting times, Dumproff said.

“In our senior year, we finally figured out the school was just one big square, which hallways to avoid if you were pushing the dress code and how many days you could miss before it really became a problem,” Dumproff continued. “We became Cougars, and we survived hurricanes, floods and tragedy. We became the class of 2019.”

Dumproff reminded graduates to never forget that South Brunswick is their home forever.

“Because even if you never drive down Cougar Road again, or you never revisit the halls of South, you will always remember the years you spent there, the nervous, happy and beautiful memories you created,” she said. “So relax and revel in your discomfort and wait for happiness to enter into your life, only when you allow it to.”