Editor’s Note: For all the pictures from the event, go to the official Fort Knox Flickr page at Fort Knox Class of 2022 graduates | Flickr.
FORT KNOX, Ky. — Students, faculty, staff, parents and friends gathered in the gym of Fort Knox Middle High School’s Class of 2022 graduation May 21, watching moments flash by: moments from some of the graduates’ childhoods as well as high school events over the past school year.
One moment after another passed by on the screens, captured for a few seconds, and gone, only to be replaced by another. Like that slideshow of memories the seniors enjoyed for the moment, their time at the high school had come and gone—
Then the images ended, fading to just six words: “We did it … Class of 2022” — the students erupted in applause.
“It is my pleasure to welcome you to the graduation ceremony of the Class of 2022,” said Rebecca Shapiro, the class salutatorian, who thanked the teachers, staff and parents for their efforts in getting the 73 graduates to the finish line … “Here’s to the Class of 2022!”
Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Wilson, FKMHS JROTC commander and teacher, followed Shapiro to pass on some encouraging words of wisdom to the graduating seniors.
“In times when today’s youth are growing up with TikTok, Facebook, Snapchat, text messages, and the likes of, there are moments in a person’s life when you will have a snapshot worth the moment,” said Wilson.
He explained that those snapshots are not superficial things that may seem important to youths at that time, but instead they come through the determined choices to set off on a new path: “It’s in these moments when you face the challenges of your life and find out what you’re made of.”
Wilson then introduced Class of 2022 Valedictorian India “Smiling Laughing” Gooch, whom he said embodies those moments. Gooch shared how she learned to pursue excellence throughout her secondary school education under the pressure of a pandemic.
“At a time when we should have been playing sports, enjoying homecoming, hanging out with our friends, and trying to figure out what’s next, we were forced into a different type of learning environment,” said Gooch; “one that started off or ended a little rocky for most, but we pushed through so pat yourself on the back graduates because it wasn’t an easy task.”
Gooch told her classmates that they were probably surprised she was chosen as valedictorian because she didn't always act like a student who takes school seriously.
“The majority of the school knows me as the one who’s always laughing, playing around, doing sports, and always trying to find a way out of school,” she said, laughing.
She then offered them a word of advice; advice she said has guided her to success.
“The best accomplishments will be the ones where you did nothing but stay true to yourself,” she said. “You don’t need to go out of your way to be something you aren’t or what other people think you should be.”
After Gooch spoke, Senior Class President Taylor O'Brien thanked her parents, brother, faculty members and fellow students at the school for their support. She then introduced the guest speaker for the event: Fort Knox Garrison Commander Col. Lance O’Bryan.
O’Bryan highlighted many of the students’ experiences and the unique challenges they faced growing up.
“As military-affiliated students, you have had a unique opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. And while you each have a unique path that got you to this very moment, you also have a lot in common,” said O’Bryan. “You’ve learned how to make friends quickly and to stay in contact with long distance friends. You have learned to adjust to new ways of learning, new environments and new cultures.
“Flexibility is ingrained in you and change doesn’t scare you. Let me tell you, as a leader, all of these qualities are important.”
O’Bryan charged the graduates with taking what they have learned and making it advantageous to the next chapter.
“The world needs people like you in it. We need your kindness, creativity, intelligence, determination, and perseverance,” said O’Bryan. “We need your bravery. We need you to challenge the status quo. We need you to believe in yourselves the way that we believe in you”
The vast majority of the graduating seniors plan to attend college. In total, they have received $2,580,688 in college and tech school scholarships, with another $534,521 in military GI Bill monies being awarded.
After O’Bryan spoke, the 73 graduating seniors individually walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. They then stood together for the last time as a class to shift their tassels to the left side of the mortarboard hat, closing the high school chapter of their lives.
And many pulled out cell phones to capture the moment.