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Aiken County seniors excel as they look to their futures

South Aiken High graduates and twins Leighton and Logan Varnadore have been in school together all of their lives, and next fall won’t be any different.

The sisters will attend Utah State University on gymnastics scholarships.

Having a study partner helped Leighton and Logan complete their high school studies a year early, and they graduated as juniors.

“It was helpful when it came to studying,” Leighton said.

“Being together made it much easier for both of us,” Logan said.

But the sisters are more than study partners. They are sisters and friends and enjoy being together, Logan said.

“It’s great,” she said. “We don’t have to go anywhere alone, and you always have a friend. We always planned to go to college together for sure.”

Leighton and Logan are two of more than 700 Aiken County Public School students from South Aiken, Silver Bluff and Aiken high schools who received their diplomas Thursday in front of family and friends at the USC Aiken Convocation Center.

Students from the other four high schools will graduate Friday in the Convocation Center as follows: Midland Valley High at 9 a.m., Wagener-Salley High at noon, North Augusta High at 3 p.m. and Ridge Spring-Monetta High at 6 p.m.

The ceremonies will be broadcast live online at and on television on Atlantic Broadband channel 12.

Seniors who graduated Thursday ended their high school careers with an impressive record of academic and athletic achievement.

Students at Aiken and South Aiken combined have been offered more than $30 million in scholarships.

Aiken High students earned $16.1 million in awards, and 86 percent of the class’ seniors plan to attend a two- or four-year college or university, Sally Tice in Aiken High’s guidance department told the audience at the school’s commencement exercises.

South Aiken seniors earned more than $14 million in awards, South Aiken Principal Jill Jett said.

South Aiken High

South Aiken High awarded diplomas to almost 300 students during its commencement ceremony.

South Aiken High students said they plant to spend their summer preparing for their transition to college in the fall.

Sophia McDonald will major in music at USC Columbia. She plans to minor in hospitality management with the goal of combining music and travel and maybe working for a cruise line one day.

“Graduation is a milestone we all look forward to from the time we’re little, and I think that it’s just a big moment that is finally here,” McDonald said.

Keith McBride plans to study mathematics and computer science at USC Aiken with the goal of earning a master’s degree and becoming a biostatistician.

“After today will be the next chapter of my life,” he said.

Natalie Reynolds will attend Charleston Southern University in the fall to major in nursing, and like McDonald, she wants to travel.

“I’ve always wanted to do some type of travel, and I figure nursing would be the best way to open doors that way, so I’m going to be a traveling nurse,” Reynolds said. “Graduation is a celebration of all the hard work that we’ve put into it. It’s a big deal.”

Laura Kathryn Reid delivered the valedictorian address and Emily Elizabeth Ezekiel the salutatorian address.

Reid spoke to her classmates about their future, saying that although the future is hard to envision, a few key character qualities can help as they move forward.

“Remember to be grateful,” she said. “No matter where you go, always put forth your best effort. Be generous and care for others. Serve others. No matter what your job is, help someone else. Make service part of your daily routine. Even something as simple as a radiant smile can brighten someone’s day.”

Silver Bluff High

Silver Bluff High graduated more than 150 students.

In his farewell address to the class of 2017, Salutatorian Bryce Justus told his classmates “to pursue your dreams and passions to the best of your abilities and to live your lives without any regrets.”

“Use the skills that Silver Bluff has taught you to become successful in whatever you do,” he said. “Remember, your education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams, and live the life you have always imagined.”

Talking about the definition of success and the challenges to achieving it, Silver Bluff High Valedictorian Jace Rinder quoted Mark Twain in his address: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning.”

“Be steadfast to face challenges first thing in the morning,” he said. “I hope that you continue to chase your dreams and never forget where it was that you began.”

Silver Bluff senior Brandon Dooley said he’s ready to move on, go to college at USCA and start his career in engineering or graphic design but he’ll miss his years in high school.

“It’s small, and you know every body,” he said. “It’s not a big high school. You’re friends with everybody.”

Christopher Mills, like Dooley, will attend USCA to major in industrial process engineering.

“Graduation is exciting, and everyone should experience it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to going to college and staring my life.”

Aiken High

Aiken High graduated more than 300 students.

Aiken High senior Chase Jackson had some advice for his schoolmates who have not graduated yet.

“It’s been a lot of hard work these last four years, but I really have enjoyed attending Aiken High,” he said. “And to the kids under us who haven’t graduated: work hard.”

Jackson will spend most of the summer at a camp in Massachusetts and will attend Miami University of Ohio in the fall to study finance.

Aiken High graduate Mimi Inman said she’s “proud” and “excited” for everyone in the class of 2017.

“We’ve worked so hard to get here, and we finally made it,” she said. “Tonight is just going to be a really special night, and we all deserve it.”

Inman will attend USCA next fall to major in business management and will miss the “family environment” at Aiken High.

“Everyone is so nice,” she said. “People will welcome you in. As soon as you get there, if you’re a new student or a freshman, they will just come up to you and say hi and welcome you in like you’re family. It’s a really great school. I’m going to miss all of the friendly faces, the faculty and staff.”

Aiken High Salutatorian Stephan Michael Frost echoed Inman’s words.

“When I first came to Aiken High, I was very much alone. I was coming from Kennedy and had next to no friends,” he said. “My mom encouraged me join the cross-county team the summer before freshman year. Almost instantly, I met people, people who welcomed me. They took me in.”

Aiken High Valedictorian Frelicia Tucker told her classmates that they are all seeds who have the potential to germinate, grow and prosper in different areas: the workforce, at universities or in the military. But, after Thursday, they always will have one thing in common.

“We all have roots leading back to our new alma mater, Aiken High,” Tucker said.

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