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West Rowan High School 2017 graduation

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West Rowan High School: At West Rowan High School’s graduation, there was one name on everyone’s minds: Ella Ferguson.

Ella was 17, a senior as West, when her car hit a tree the evening of Nov. 6. She was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, but did not survive the night.

But the Class of 2017 remembered her, acknowledging that she should have been with them Saturday morning, dressed in Falcon blue with a smile on her face.

Student speaker Margaret Smith said Ella had a “joy of life that rubbed off on everyone she met.”

Her death that night in November was a cold wake-up call to seniors.

“As teenagers, we think we’re invincible,” student speaker Robert Cogburn said. “But sadly, we’re not.”

Student council president Bailey Herndon said Ella had an inner light, and that carrying that light forward was now the responsibility of the senior class. She urged her fellow graduates to let their own light shine, as well as Ella’s.

“To me, shining our light is not a choice, but a responsibility,” she said.

Senior class president Ashley Wood broke down in tears on the podium as she talked about Ella.

“She was my best friend,” she said, voice wavering.

Wood encouraged her classmates to carry on Ella’s memory as they walked into the future.

“She will always be a part of our hearts,” she said, “and she will be missed.

But graduates also looked forward, towards the future.

“We have successfully survived 13 years of uniformity, and are getting ready to be thrust into the great wide wonder that is the world,” Cogburn said.

And each student speaker issued a challenge to their peers.

“Make the most out of your life, doing something you love,” Cogburn said.

For Smith, that challenge was to “be fearless” in everything that they did — she encouraged the senior class to “be your own superhero.”

“I hope that you are fearless enough to look inside yourself and realize your dreams,” she said.

For graduates, Saturday was the first day of the future — and for the Class of 2017, it was a bright one.

“Let’s change the world,” Herndon said.

— Rebecca Rider

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