By Clay Wilson
Joe Fuller gives a pretty philosophical outlook on graduation.
"It's going to be a sad occasion, but everything has to come to an end."
The vice president of the Henry County High School Class of 2004, Fuller was one of more than 1,400 Henry County School System seniors who turned their tassels.
Unlike almost half of the county's seniors, Fuller walked the stage Friday night. Graduates at Stockbridge and Union Grove high schools had their moment in the spotlight temporarily dimmed by sudden rainstorms.
As provided in the school system's backup plan, the two schools' ceremonies to be held in their football stadiums were rescheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday.
"We were lined up, about to go out the door (to the stadium and) it started pouring down," said UGHS honor graduate Maria Aparo. "I was kind of excited walking out there, and it was kind of an abrupt end to my excitement."
Not to be deterred from celebrating, Aparo and about 18 of her family members gathered for dinner, filling a small dining room at Truman's on the McDonough Square.
"Just for this, it's worth it," said Aparo's aunt, Mary Maddox, who had driven three hours from Hayesville, N.C., to watch her niece graduate. Nevertheless, she said, "To see the smile on her face when we walked into the restaurant, that made it worthwhile."
And although Maddox said she would have to see how Saturday's weather is before committing to attending the ceremony, Aparo's 91-year-old great-grandmother, Lucia Aparo of Hiawassee, seemed to have no doubt.
"(She's) my first great-granddaughter," she said with obvious pride.
Henry County High's Fuller, while thinking about the end of his high school career, was also thinking about the beginning of his college career. He plans to attend Auburn University and major in pre-medicine.
"I'm excited about graduation and starting over again in college," he said.
As of Friday, figures on the number of students planning to attend college were available from only two of the county's schools. The results of surveys issued to the seniors at the other schools were still trickling in.
At Henry County High, where about 350 students graduated, 51 percent indicated on a survey that they plan to attend a four-year college. Twenty-five percent indicated plans to attend a two-year school.
Thirteen percent of HCHS' students said they plan to attend a technical college, 7 percent said they want to go into the military, and the remaining 4 percent were either undecided or planning to go straight to work.
At Patrick Henry, the county's alternative school, 19 of the 62 graduates indicated they plan to attend college. Five students said they want to go to technical school, six indicated the military, 20 intend to go to work and 12 are undecided.
But while they are preparing to face the future, for many of the seniors Friday night was the time for a last look back.
"They're all like one big family," HCHS Assistant Principal Windy Danz said. "They're all friends with everybody."
The administrator overseeing the senior class at Henry County High, Danz recalled a group that was full of enthusiasm.
"Not every class has had as much school spirit as this (one) has," said the 10-year HCHS veteran.
"It was very interesting," said Union Grove High School senior Travis Foster of his experience in the first class to spend all four years at Union Grove. He recalled a library quite short of books in 2000, but said that now most of the shelves are filled.
Foster, son of school system Coordinator of Community Development Cindy Foster, said that UGHS' teachers had helped to make his high school years memorable.
"All the teachers there are very kind and loving," he said. "(They) kind of have an idea of what the students have learned and what they need to learn."
Foster said he plans to go to Middle Georgia College and major in athletic training.
"I know it's going to be a big transformation," he said. "You're not going to be following your parents' rules, but you'll be following college rules, and they're kind of the same but kind of different."