The future is yours, but it must be earned. 

That message resounded through high school gyms and auditoriums this past week as Georgetown County students in the Class of 2018 received their diplomas and were honored for their achievements during commencements at the county's four public high schools and two private schools. 

Andrews

Andrews High School not only said goodbye to the Class of 2018 during its commencement ceremony on Tuesday but also to longtime Principal Michelle Greene, who is retiring.

Greene said she told this year’s seniors that they would be her last graduating class when they arrived as freshmen four years ago. She called the ceremony “bittersweet.”

“These guys will always be special to me. I’m very proud of them. I could not have asked for a better class to be leaving with,” Greene said. “They’re great. They’re humble, they’re always happy, they’re very unified. They’re just a great group of young people to work with. I just feel a lot of love coming from them.”

The reading of the names of the graduates was left to Paula Anderson, who will be replacing Greene as principal.

Greene was honored during the ceremony for her 32 years of service to the Georgetown County School District. Ashlynn Bowers also received a certificate for 13 years of perfect attendance.

The ceremony had a poignant tinge, as all the seniors, as well as many teachers, administrators and school district officials were wearing buttons in memory of Cleon Grant, a member of the Class of 2018 who died in May. Grant’s name was called as one of the graduates, and Greene left the stage to present his diploma to his family sitting in the audience.

Along with the speeches and presentation of the diplomas, the ceremony also included two poems, a brief history of the Class of 2018, and two performances by the school’s chorus.

Carvers Bay

At Carvers Bay High School on Tuesday a little more than 100 students crossed the stage to receive their diplomas from first-year Principal Bethany Giles.

The 104 graduates let loose shouts of joy, slapped hi-fives, gave fist-bumps and plenty of hugs as a packed audience cheered them on inside the school's gymnasium. Behind the stage, "2018" was displayed in large, wooden blocks painted maroon.

Graduates led the school's chorus in a rousing performance of "Total Praise." Senior Nyia Moore's poem confirmed that, yes, dreams can come true. And Shawnce Drayton received thunderous applause following her performance of the national anthem.

In her address, salutatorian Taylor Chapman thanked parents, friends and relatives who've supported each student throughout their young lives.

"We are all graduating today because we had someone standing behind us," Chapman said. She praised her parents for their unwavering support and guidance.

Chapman said the Class of 2018 has persevered through obstacles and hardships. She mentioned her own trials of growing up in poverty.

Calling the assembled graduates the next generation of leaders, thinkers and doers, Chapman urged her classmates to tackle issues that plague our society and the world, such as inequality, racism, homophobia, police brutality, gun violence, climate change and a culture of sexual assault and harassment.

"It will be up to us to solve these problems," she said, urging a new chapter of change and activism.

Valedictorian Anna Grace McLean said her classmates and the Carvers Bay community have grown closer and stronger during the past four years.

She told the story about a trip to the beach with several classmates on senior-skip day. A woman approached them, McLean said, and told the students that they inspired her.

Girls and boys. Black and white, together enjoying a day on the beach, McLean recalled the woman saying. "With tears in her eyes, she told us how we were the future."

"And I agree with her 110 percent," McLean said.

She spoke of the trust that has developed among her classmates over the years. And she advised them to find strength through faith as they journey into the future.

"One thing I've learned over the years is that I can never go wrong trusting the lord," she said.

Georgetown

It was standing room only in the Georgetown High School gymnasium as the school honored its 246 graduates on Wednesday. Principal Craig Evans told the graduates that the ceremony is not an end but a beginning.

“We give you our best wishes for a successful future,” he said. “I encourage you to make good decisions, work hard and take advantage of opportunities while you pursue your dreams.”

During the ceremony, state Rep. Carl Anderson presented three graduating seniors with awards. The first was Joshua Grant, who received a Perfect Attendance Award from the state legislature for never missing a day of school in 12 years.

“We applaud Joshua on reaching this unique and rare accomplishment and wish him all the best in his future endeavors,” Anderson said.

The other two students, Angelique Walker and Darius McGirt, each received a $500 scholarship from Anderson in honor of his son, Airman 1st Class Carl L. Anderson Jr., who was killed in 2004 while serving in Iraq.

Valedictorian Darrian Gardner told her classmates that as they seek their different paths in the future, they should cherish the moments shared in high school, but not dwell on them.

“Whatever path you choose, just remember what it took for us to get here today,” she said. “Make sure that whatever you are doing, that you notice all the little details of perfection. Study it, nurture it and have a love for it.”

She also urged them to help others to succeed along the way by sharing their knowledge.

“Share it with the world, share how you got there, share it so much that others want to emulate it and be as great as you or greater,” she said.

Salutatorian Meredith Shelley compared the high school journey with climbing a mountain to reach the summit.

“Rewards come from taking a journey despite the steep ridges and interferences along the way,” she said. “Once the climber overcomes his obstacles, he can see the world from a better perspective and embrace the beauty of the mountainous horizon.”

Lowcountry Prep

Lowcountry Preparatory School held commencement in the school's gymnasium May 30. The school celebrated 15 graduates in its Class of 2018.

Pastor John Gambrell told the graduates during his commencement speech to "listen, learn, laugh and love."

"Listen and ask questions because you don't learn when your mouth is running," Gambrell said. "Use your imagination, enjoy life, travel and laugh because it is physically and emotionally healthy.” He also said people should be characterized by loving others.

Scott Gibson, head of school, said during the ceremony that the Class of 2018 is special for several reasons.

"It marks our first International Baccalaureate diploma class; and members of the class were offered an estimated $1.47 million in scholarship dollars — which is impressive for a class of 15 students," Gibson said. "Additionally, the class includes two 'lifers,' students who have been here from the start, namely John Augustino and Josie Mangialardo."

During the event, Augustino and Mangialardo were presented the Life-long Learner Award. Augustino and Tanea Miller were also presented with a Daughters of the American Revolution Award.

Gibson explained after the ceremony that the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme is a two-year course of study during the students' junior and senior years. He said it features rigorous curriculum to include a research paper accomplished over two years and is recognized internationally.

Mangialardo, who was the valedictorian of the class, said in her speech that the IB Diploma Programme was challenging, but it brought the class together. She said their hard work and dedicated teachers have prepared them for their next challenge – college.

"We are an intelligent, competitive group that can do anything that we set our minds to," she said. "I want my classmates to know that I am glad that I've been with you guys throughout the years and I wish you the best in the future."

The Georgetown School of Arts and Sciences

Five graduates took center stage at The Georgetown School of Arts and Sciences’ fifth commencement ceremony on May 25 at the Winyah Auditorium. Friends, faculty, fellow students, founders and family from as far away as Kansas and Colorado were on hand to celebrate the occasion.

Salutatorian Christopher Attias thanked the faculty and exhorted the upcoming Kingfishers to shoulder the job of making the school an even better place. “Step up,” he said. “Take responsibility for yourselves and this school.” At the TGS awards ceremony earlier that day, Attias received a scholarship award from the University of Alabama Honors College worth $194,000 to cover his next five years’ schooling.

Valedictorian Isabella Neubauer shared memories of her time at TGS. “School has never just been about sitting in the classroom for me,” she said, evoking school trips and being on the volleyball team. She also touched on the sense of unreality about leaving. “I am barely 18 and I am about to move halfway across the country.” Neubauer will attend Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

In his commencement address, TGS’s first valedictorian Chris Elliott said he was in awe of what the school had accomplished in five years. “This isn’t some cookie-cutter college prep school,” he said. “TGS takes students from all walks of life and turns them into scholars, with the desire to learn more, do more, discover more.” Elliott has just graduated from the University of South Carolina Honors College.

The five graduates blinked back tears as Gary Gates, head of school, called the roll and spoke about each of them. In addition to Attias and Neubauer, this year’s TGS graduates are: Douglas DeVito (University of South Carolina), Avi Goldschmidt (University of Wisconsin, Madison) and Avery Rose Higgins (College of Charleston).

Besides finishing their coursework, TGS seniors must do 25 hours per year of community service, complete an internship and give a senior speech.

Waccamaw

From Emily Ackershoek to Athena Zorn, the Waccamaw High School Class of 2018 bid farewell to high school and hello to the next chapter in their lives on Wednesday. The annual commencement ceremony was delayed briefly as school officials scrambled to get the sound system working.

Valedictorian Spencer Kemp told the crowd that he was honored to speak at the ceremony, but had no “timeless advice or enduring wisdoms to impart.”

Kemp encouraged his classmates to remain modest, humble, kind and to always work hard.

“Unfortunately many in our generation have adopted an attitude of entitlement and expect things to be handed to them,” Kemp said. “We have forgotten the value of hard work and a good work ethic. … The way that this graduating class will affect the world is through working hard and not giving up when things get tough. The Waccamaw High School Class of 2018 will set the standard of what it means to get the job done.”

As the seniors crossed the stage to receive their diplomas they walked past a red rose which was placed in memory of Jamisa Lewis. Lewis, a member of the Class of 2018, was killed in a car accident in March 2017. Kemp said Lewis “represented the best this class and school had to offer.”

After the senior video, which is a school tradition and features four years of photos, and before the diplomas were handed out, Principal David Hammel told the crowd that the 199 members of the Class of 2018 had received more than $4.4 million in scholarships.

Staff writers David Purtell, Chris Sokoloski and Clayton Stairs contributed to this article.