Accomplishments, trials mark HVA Commencement

$13 million+ in scholarships earned by 455 while Stewart Class of ’22 Hawk Awardee

  • Kellye Barger with her son, Hardin Valley Academy Class of 2022 graduate Weston Agreda, following the ceremony. - Tammy Cheek

  • Dr. Rob Speas, Hardin Valley Academy principal, presents The Hawk Award to Class of 2022 graduate Dylan Stewart during HVA Commencement ceremonies Friday evening, May 27, in the school’s football/track and field stadium. - Tammy Cheek

Hardin Valley Academy’s 455 graduating seniors observed four years of trials and accomplishments as they walked across the stage during HVA Commencement in the school’s football field/track and field stadium Friday night, May 27.

While living through the COVID pandemic and social pressures, they achieved accolades, such as earning $13,689,730 in scholarships, sports achievements and other awards this school year.

“Today, you move from students of Hardin Valley Academy to alum of Hardin Valley Academy,” executive principal Dr. Rob Speas said. “It is an elite group of people who call themselves HVA alum.”

However, with that, he reminded the graduates, “It’s not about you; life is about others and not about ourselves … I challenge you to think of others.”

With that, Speas presented the Hawk Award, the school’s most prestigious recognition, to Dylan Stewart. Speas said the award depicts dependability, responsibility and moral character.

“Dylan has proven himself to be a hard-working, generous, enthusiastic and helpful individual in our community,” Speas said. “He has excelled in academics with a 4.0 weighted GPA … he is known for his compassion in helping others while challenging himself academically.”

Stewart, one of three class speakers, was among five students chosen as candidates for that award. Caleb DeLong, Amaya Martin, Madison Romain and salutatorian Olivia Rose joined him.

As Stewart spoke on “The Wrong Decision,” he urged classmates to get back up when mistakes get them down.

“After all, we’re only human,” he said. “Despite all the poor choices we make, our mistakes define us far less than attitudes that carry on … go ahead and choose the path that you believe in and commit to it so that you may manifest your own destiny.”

In addition to the Hawk Award, Emily Haugh, who had a 4.6667 weighted grade-point average, was recognized as valedictorian, and Iris Lee, who achieved a weighted 4.6747 GPA, was announced as salutatorian.

A surprise announcement came from retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard Webber, president of East Tennessee Air and Space Corps Association, who presented graduating senior Gavin McCormick with a full-ride scholarship and appointment to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. McCormick is one of 1,220 appointees chosen from 8,000 applicants.

Other seniors who chose the military were Countess-Re’ Bell, Air Force; Adam Eaton and Rowen Williamson, Army ROTC; Brayden Lane, Tyrone Thompson, Raven Williams and Jacob Van Cao, Army; Daniel Flory, Allan Hovey and Alex Stanley, Navy; and Sam Vennix, Marine Corps.

“We are a society of convenience, but our luxury comes at a price,” assistant principal David Combs told the graduates. “You will bring hope for our future as a nation.”

Madison Romain spoke on “Growing Up” and Jillian O’Dell spoke on “An Unwelcome Reality.”

Romain recited her own poem about making new memories while keeping old ones, “stopping to smell the roses” and realizing all life’s hurdles were teaching her something.

“Life is made up of miniscule moments,” she said. “… you all have so much more ahead of you.”

O’Dell pointed out while adults told them they “don’t know what reality is,” she and fellow classmates were confronted with reality every day through their own experience with the COVID pandemic or through social media, seeing social injustice, the riots over the presidential election and effects of wars.

“These experiences influenced our lives,” she added. “Haven’t we seen the effects of the real world? … Would life after high school be so hard?

“They say we need to watch out for the real world. But I’m going to say, after all we’ve been through, maybe the real world needs to watch out for us.”