Loudon County’s first 2019 class of graduates received diplomas Friday night when Greenback School students tossed their caps high into the air in celebration of years of hard work before a packed gymnasium.

The graduation was a community celebration as scholarships were handed out from churches, businesses and organizations. Students then presented flowers to those in attendance who had made a special impact on their lives.

Mike Casteel, Greenback principal, asked those students who attended the school since kindergarten to stand for applause.

“There are not many places in the state of Tennessee where students can do that,” Casteel said. “Guys, your next step may be outside of Greenback and the Greenback Drug Store and the Corner Market, but don’t be nervous, it’s going to be OK. You’re well prepared.”

Casteel also celebrated teachers for their work helping the Class of 2019 prepare to move on to what comes next.

“I know this group has made you mad, but I also know this group worked for you,” he said. “They worked for you because you folks developed respectful relationships with our students. So they were there to work for you because of that.”

Those who have earned scholarships and those entering the military were honored as Melanie Shepherd, school counselor, called each by name.

“We’re still waiting on some more scholarships to come in, but with the HOPE Scholarship, the Tennessee Promise, the G.I. Bill and potential for other scholarships, that has made it a little over $1.5 million that these young men and women are going to get over the next few years,” Shepherd said.

Megan Fields delivered the student commencement speech.

“For some of us it’s a relief that we get to walk out of these doors one last time. For others it can be terrifying,” she said. “... Whether you’re apprehensive about moving on to bigger or better things, or you know what lies ahead and you’re ready to take it on, it’s important that you never forget this — make (the best) of your experience. As long as you believe in what we do, we can do it. As long we keep our goals in the forefront, we can achieve anything.”

Loudon grads celebrate

Saturday morning saw family, friends and educators gather in the Loudon High School gymnasium as students received diplomas and entered life after grade school.

LHS teacher Jennifer Brewster helped her daughter, McKenna Brewster, get prepared in the morning before giving her a kiss and watching as she went to take a seat with her peers during commencement.

“It’s super emotional,” Jennifer Brewster said with tears in her eyes. “All these kids are mine.”

McKenna was her second child to pass through LHS. Jacob Collier graduated in 2016.

“I cook for them, I make sure they get up to go to church on Sunday mornings,” Brewster said. “It’s tough. This is a tough one. It just magnifies it because of my daughter and all of her friends that have grown up at our home since kindergarten, since pre-school. These kids share lots of great memories and fun times together. It’s just a hard chapter to close, but I’m so excited for their future.

“We’ve got some really wonderful kids that have really — they’re going to do really good things,” she added.

In total, 193 seniors received their diploma.

David Green considered Saturday an accomplishment in more ways than one.

“Not most of my family has graduated high school, like my mom and dad didn’t, and I’m pretty sure my grandparents didn’t either,” Green said. “It’s pretty cool to be a first generation to graduate.”

His four years at LHS left him “speechless,” he said, mainly because he didn’t want it to be over. But he knew it was time to move on to bigger and better things, such as plans to be a teacher.

“Teaching kids is like a passion, just seeing how they grow and learn. It’s awesome,” Green said.

The significance of graduation didn’t hit Estefani Saldana until the day of the ceremony.

“I’d say it’s a bittersweet moment because you kind of don’t want to go, but it’s time I guess you’d say,” she said. “... I think it’s the beginning but it’s also an end. It’s an end of a big chapter in my life.”

She hopes to move into the health care field to help the community.

“It was a blur,” Brody Bingham said. “All the seniors told me my freshman year I’d blink and it’d be gone, and they wasn’t lying, here it is.”

Bingham’s four years at LHS were “amazing,” he said.

“I mean I had a ball,” Bingham said. “... Coming from middle school to high school was a big step, but I’ve learned a lot and I’ve grown as a man and really glad to be growing up now.”

Bingham hopes to go to Roane State Community College and play baseball before majoring in wildlife sciences to become a game warden.

“I’m blessed to get this far,” he said. “I love my mama more than anything. She’s helped me through it all. It’s been hard, but I’m glad I made it.”