2023 graduate Carly Barnes happily displays her diploma Friday night as B-U grads prepared to turn their tassels. / Photos by Katie Kuba

The road to graduation was rocky, but the Class of 2023 was ready to brave the waves, students said at B-UHS commencement

TENNERTON – For the Class of 2023, it was finally tassel-turning time.

About 270 graduates earned their diplomas at the 136th Commencement of Buckhannon-Upshur High School Friday evening at the Freal ‘Red’ Crites Memorial Stadium.

Buckhannon-Upshur High School Principal Randy West welcomed the audience on the sunny spring evening and commended the Class of 2023 on their achievements.

 “Tonight, we are here to celebrate a milestone in the lives of the students before us; they have worked hard to arrive here at this moment and deserve to celebrate,” West said. “As I reflect on the year and all the struggles that we have all endured, my mind always shifts to the success of the students sitting here in front of us.”

Buckhannon-Upshur High School Principal Randy West welcomes family and friends to Friday’s commencement ceremony.

“Last night [at senior awards], we awarded over $3 million in scholarships for college and post-secondary training,” he continued. “We know you’re all ready for this next step in your life, and we wish you all the best. The reason we know you’re ready for this step is all you have done while attending B-UHS. Part of the reason I returned to the high school was to be part of the extracurricular activities that are offered for students.”

“I truly enjoy watching students compete in athletics, seeing our music groups, seeing our animals at the livestock show and the ceremonies associated with the clubs and activities that happened at our school. Thank you for being part of our school and the memories you’ve given to us all,” West concluded.

He gave the graduates’ family and friends a glimpse of where their students were headed.

“We focus a lot of time preparing our students to enroll in a post-secondary education, to enlist in the military or to become employed in our community,” West said. “This year, we are proud to share that 52% of our students are continuing their education at a college or a trade school; 23% of our students are going to be entering into the workforce; and 7% of them are going to be enlisting in the military.”

Finishing the education needed to embark on that next chapter hadn’t been easy, though. Ian Donnen, one of the two student-body-selected speakers, said the Class of 2023 had significant obstacles to surmount, including a worldwide pandemic, online learning, cancel culture and increased evidence of global warming, among others.

Ian Donnen was one of the two students selected by his classmates to deliver a speech at the 136th Commencement.

“In order for us to be here today, each of us have had our own fair share of struggles,” he said. “Whether the academic, financial or social, we’ve all been through a lot in order to walk across the stage today, so I’d like to give a round of applause to all the members of the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Graduating Class of 2023.”

He also touted the importance of courage and resilience in overcoming those challenges.

“Let us embrace the lessons of courage and resilience and face the future with unwavering determination knowing that we possess the bravery and toughness needed to overcome any obstacle that comes our way,” Donnen said. “Class of 2023, a journey is just beginning; we have a long ways to go.”

Malia Bowers was one of about 270 students to graduate from Buckhannon-Upshur High School Friday evening at the Freal ‘Red’ Crites Memorial Stadium.

Henry ‘Hank’ Phillips, the other student-selected speaker, emphasized the importance of living in the now and learning to let go of what you can’t control.

Henry ‘Hank’ Phillips addresses his fellow graduates just before they prepare to walk across the stage.

“There will always be people who will let you down and hurt you, people who will tell you that you can’t, and you can choose to make that a reality if you want – unless you don’t,” Phillips said. “In this case, there’s no need to worry about the future because in the present, right now, you are fighting for the prosperity of your future self. And if you find yourself not going in the direction which exudes the destiny of happiness, then I challenge you to find the courage to change your present for a better future, no matter who or what stands in the way.”

Interim Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison read aloud a poem, “It Couldn’t Be Done,” written by Edgar Albert Guest.

Jonathan Alkire was the first member of the Class of 2023 to receive his diploma at Friday’s ceremony.

“Class of 2023, you have tackled the things that couldn’t be done, and you have done them; congratulations!” Harrison said.

Interim Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr. Debra Harrison addresses the Class of 2023.

The Buckhannon-Upshur High School Soundwaves, directed by Mr. Jeremiah Smallridge, performed “Africa” and “Riversong: A Celtic Celebration” as well as the national anthem.

Following the presentation of diplomas by Harrison, interim assistant superintendent Melinda Stewart and board of education members, Senior Class President Alayna Whitehair delivered closing remarks. The Soundwaves and B-U Band, led by Ms. Eliza Taylor, teamed up to play the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Alma Mater.  

Here are a few more scenes from Friday night’s commencement:

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