Ridge Spring-Monetta graduates collect a long list of firsts

Mortarboards fly into the air as graduation ceremonies at Ridge Spring-Monetta High School conclude Friday morning. Staff photos by Tony Baughman

The Ridge Spring-Monetta High School Class of 2020 had only a few weeks to enjoy their new school before the coronavirus closed classrooms all across South Carolina. That didn’t stop these students and the Ridge community from celebrating graduation Friday morning with an exuberance akin to a small-town festival.

Loved ones sitting in the stands at the Trojans’ new football stadium cheered as their graduates walked a mat stretched across midfield to claim their diplomas. Pickup trucks rolling past on Highway 1 honked their horns in support. The school’s agriculture teacher stood next to the video camera set up to live-stream the event to those who couldn’t attend, and he fist-bumped students who circled back to their seats, spaced six feet apart on the field.

Forget stuffy pomp and ceremony. This was a party on the Ridge for young adults stepping into the rest of their lives.

“There will never be a class like yours,” said Dr. KaRon Webb, Principal at RS-M, in his address to the graduates. “You’re the last senior class to walk the halls of the old RS-M High. You are the first class to walk the halls of the new RS-M High. You’re the first class to graduate on this field, the first class to have a drive-through baccalaureate service, and the first class to have a virtual awards night.”

Of all the “firsts” listed by Dr. Webb, the one that inspired the loudest cheers was the acknowledgment that the Class of 2020 includes student-athletes who played in the first football games contested at the stadium where they graduated Friday. “And you can walk off this field today knowing that you never lost a game on this field,” he said to whoops from the stands.

Last fall, the RS-M Trojans advanced to the school’s first appearance in a state championship game in 56 years but fell short to Green Sea-Floyds in the finals. Stadium construction meant that RS-M had to play most of its games on the road, but the 2019 Trojans managed to collect four wins in their new home – including a 47-0 playoff win over Great Falls.

Senior graduates Colbi Sullivan, Kenyon Ligons and Michael Summer were leaders on that winning team. Just before Friday’s graduation, Sullivan sat at his seat in his light-blue cap and gown and sang along to Bill Withers’ inspirational R&B classic “Lean On Me” playing on the stadium speakers.

The new Ridge Spring-Monetta High opened its doors to students only in late January, rising out of the dirt next to the old RS-M that had served this farming community since the mid-1950s. As the coronavirus began to spread across the Palmetto State, the doors of the new RS-M closed on March 13 for the last time this academic year.

“To anyone from the Class of 2021 and after that may be watching, walk through this school each day with pride,” said valedictorian Morgan Rene Berry in her address. “Take in every moment and never take the days of your senior year for granted. While this year did not go as anticipated, we definitely have a good story to tell. In the future, when our kids don’t want to go to school or they complain about their work, we can say we did all this in the middle of a pandemic; stop whining. This is our walking to school uphill both ways in the snow kind of story.”

When all the diplomas had been awarded and a quick spray of tossed mortarboards flew toward a clear Carolina blue sky, the feeling of kinship and unity lingered as the RS-M Class of 2020 walked off the field and met their waiting loved ones.

“The first time I addressed this student body, I told you all we were family. I said, like it or not, you have to accept it,” Dr Webb said in his remarks. “That still remains true. We will always be family, and the Ridge will always be home.”

RS-M graduates celebrate as they file out of the stadium with their diplomas in hand.