Wearing their caps and gowns, a portion of Oxford’s graduating class gathered in the high school’s Performing Arts Center Sunday evening to express their faith and soak up some words of wisdom before receiving their diplomas this week.
Surrounded by family members and friends, the graduates participated in the 2019 Baccalaureate Service organized by members of Oakwood Community Church and St. Joseph Catholic Church.
Tom Donnelly, pastor of Firmly Rooted Ministries and president of the Oxford Board of Education, served as the keynote speaker.
Donnelly told graduates to remember that no matter what happens in the future, no matter where life takes them, they will have a support system to fall back on in Oxford.
“Know that we’re still here. Your pastors, your teachers, your parents will always be here,” he said. “You need to talk, you need to say that it’s (all) spinning out of control, you need someone to step into your life – we’re here for that . . . Just because you’re graduating doesn’t mean our job ends.”
Sally King, a math teacher at OHS, reminded graduates that each one of them is “a special person.”
“Only you can fulfill the purpose (for) which you were born,” she said. “Never allow yourself to get discouraged and think your life is insignificant (or) that you cannot make a change because you can.”
Graduate Garrett Hill really put things in perspective by sharing his story of struggle, faith, survival and triumph.
“I know some of you don’t think (graduating from high school is) a big deal, but for me, there was a time (when) I didn’t know if this day would come,” he said.
Back when Hill was a kindergartner attending St. Joseph Catholic School in Orion, he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
The surgery, radiation treatments and chemotherapy he underwent left him with a learning disability.
“School has been a struggle for me ever since,” Hill said.
On top of all that, Hill had to face the disease a second time when bone cancer was discovered in his face during his freshman year of high school.
“I felt so many emotions,” he said. “I was sad, angry and overwhelmed. But ultimately, I realized God had been with me through my first cancer, so I knew I would beat it again.”
For a year, Hill spent more time in the hospital than he did at home.
Many things helped him cope with this difficult period, but what helped him “the most” was a cross made of olive wood.
“Many times,” Hill said he held the cross and “prayed to God” for the “strength and courage to make it through painful surgery and chemo treatments.”
Although using “morphine pumps” certainly helped, Hill told the audience he “learned that there is nothing more healing than talking to God.”
He urged his fellow graduates to do the same whenever they’re feeling “overwhelmed, scared or even grateful as I am now.”
“Continue to grow as a person and in your relationship with God,” Hill said.