The newest class of Harpeth High School (HHS) alumni graduated last Thursday night under the lights of their very own football field.
The stadium was packed with family, friends and community members eager to see their loved ones walk across the stage. The breezy evening air was filled with anticipation and excitement as the class of 2023 walked onto the field with a beautiful sunset as backdrop.
This group of 110 graduates walked onto the field already brimming with accomplishments including collectively earning more than $300,000 in scholarship money, over 700 service project hours and numerous college credit hours.
The class of 2023 is made up of scholars, musicians, one Eagle scout – Tyler Gersman – a state wrestling champion and numerous special olympics gold medalists.
With this list of accolades, it is no surprise that this group of graduates will go on to do some pretty amazing things – from studying at Tennessee Tech to beginning promising careers as college athletes, to joining the Armed Forces – Dominick Murray and Zachary Bidini.
The graduates were not the only recipients of honor during the ceremony.
Dr. Lee Rector, the principal of Harpeth High School, recognized several long-time educators: Rachel Crotzer and Alesia Beshears.
Rector emphasized that Crotzer will continue her already successful career as an author.
Beshears will be retiring this year after 31 years as an educator for Cheatham County Schools.
The late Coach Jimmy Mitchell was also honored along with the class 2023.
Mitchell passed away in September 2022, and was the HHS athletic director and educator for 26 years.
“I know there are several students walking across this stage tonight that are getting their diploma because of Coach Mitchell. If you are one of them, be proud of yourselves. Hold your head high so that he can look down on you tonight with a proud smile,” Rector said.
Vice Principal Shannon Schliwa – whose son, Drake Schliwa, was among the graduates – introduced the salutatorian, Ethan Merritt.
Merritt maintained a 4.0 GPA, was a member of the National Honor Society and played golf, basketball and baseball for all four years of high school. He plans to attend Tennessee Tech University to study business.
Merritt used his platform to encourage his classmates, acknowledging that the last four years have not come without their hardships. “We overcame COVID, online school and all the other ups and downs that come with high school,” he said.
“As we move on to the next chapter of our lives, the future holds many uncertainties, but one thing I can say for certain is that the Creator of this universe is in control.” He reminded them, “You are valued, seen, and never alone. I love you all, and I mean it."
The valedictorian, Bella Cable, maintained a 4.0 GPA, scored over a 30 on her ACT, was a member of the volleyball and track teams and the National Honor Society.
Bella recognized the hard work she and her classmates put in to get to this point, acknowledging that “as public school kids, we’ve kinda had to work harder to get to where we are now.” However, she recognized that “without the parts that kinda suck, the fun parts wouldn’t be as special.”
The ceremony included two musical performances.
The first by Steve Wilson, a HHS English teacher since 2013 and the Teacher of the Year recipient. He performed an original acoustic song called “Where Did the Time Go.”
Senior Kai Miller performed “I’ll Always Remember You” by Hannah Montana.
The Harpeth Way Award was granted to Calli Copeland and Haley Romines for their leadership, commitment, and advocacy in the community for Unified Athletes and the Special Olympics program.
Every year, Rector ends the graduation ceremony with the same Tim McGraw quote, and this year was no different.
He sent the class of 2023 off with the charge: “When the dreams you’re dreaming come to you, when the work you’ve put in is realized, let yourself feel the pride, but always stay humble and kind.”
With that, the class of 2023 left the field and entered adulthood to the tune of Rascal Flatts hit song, “Life Is a Highway.”
The top 10 ranking students in alphabetical order are:
All photos by local resident, Chris Tenpenny