Central Haywood celebrates 20th year of grads
Saying farewell to another graduating class at Central Haywood High School made for an emotional evening Friday night — especially when both the current principal and the principal from 20 years got choked up at the podium.
In celebration of 20 years of graduates, former principal Richard Reeves was the keynote speaker during the commencement. In between his retelling of anecdotes and past memories, Reeves became so overwhelmed with his passion for CHHS that he shed a few tears — a sentiment that led to a standing ovation after his speech.
“Some people say that these are the best years of your life,” Reeves told the crowd during his speech. “I’m not going to say that. The best years are ahead of you and you’re going to decide how those years are spent. Be happy with who you are, have big dreams and don’t sell yourself short. Who you become and how you overcome things is what defines you as a person for the rest of your life.”
Reeves first envisioned a place like CHHS almost 30 years ago, and he turned it into a reality in 1994 when the alternative high school was created in Haywood County. Reeves became the first principal of the school, and one major highlight for him was being in charge of hiring the best teachers he could find.
“It was a thrill for me to be able to hire all the teachers I wanted to. A big heart — that’s what we’re looking for,” Reeves said, fighting back a sob. “A principal doesn’t a school make — it’s the teachers.”
Another highlight for Reeves was being able to watch his students, who could least afford to give, volunteer their time and donate to others in need.
“We don’t forget you at Central Haywood High School — it’s forever. I wish you could have seen our kids working with elementary school kids. There were kids who didn’t have jackets or food and our Central Haywood kids would find it for them. I wish you’d have been there,” he said through tears.
The current CHHS principal Jeff Haney was also overwhelmed while congratulating the 14 graduates sitting in the auditorium. Before seniors walked across the stage to receive their high school diploma Friday, Haney challenged each of them to use that diploma to take them as far as they could go.
Also in attendance at the graduation were former principals Jim Griffin and Phil Pressley.
“We have three other principals here tonight — I think that’s very special,” Haney said.
Both Griffin and Pressley stood up and gave advice to the listening graduates below the podium.
“Listen to your mom. Take care of your knees, you’ll need them down the road, and answer to the public, your community and your heart and you’ll never go wrong,” Griffin said.
“The only person who can stop you from reaching your dreams is the person sitting there right now wearing your shoes,” Pressley added.
Donna Parris, the current lead teacher at CHHS, was positively glowing Friday during the graduation while watching yet another group of students walk across the stage.
Parris has been watching CHHS graduates beat the odds and wear the black cap and gown since the school first began 20 years ago.
“There’s no greater joy than to be through 20 years of that and to serve under four excellent principals,” Parris said.
Newly grads Tabitha Ammons and Richard McKinney were seen celebrating with their family friends just after the ceremony. Ammons, the recipient of the Eckerd Scholarship this year, was in awe that she finally had completed high school.
“It’s pretty amazing. I never thought I’d be here. I’ve been through a lot,” Ammons said.
Ammons, from the Broyhill Baptist Children’s Home, said she gained more confidence once she had gotten settled in Broyhill and enrolled in CHHS.
“Central Haywood helped me do better. They were more accommodating. It was like a family — just being there and making friends and relationships with teachers that you wouldn’t really make at a regular school,” Ammons said.
Ammons is planning to attend HCC in the fall and eventually transfer to a university to pursue a career in juvenile justice or work in admissions.
Richard McKinney was also soaking up the congratulations with his family after the commencement. McKinney was awarded the Altrusa Vocational and Nick Mastriana Memorial Scholarship.
McKinney said he hopes to become a police officer at the Waynesville Police Department, and is planning to enroll in basic law enforcement training as soon as he can.
He said CHHS made a difference in his education because it gave him a lot of freedom and he was able to receive the kind of personal academic help he needed.
“It was more hands on. They help you more than in regular high school. It was just easier, and the teachers were great,” McKinney said.