The three high schools in Marshall County have milestones for the lives of their seniors tonight, tomorrow and last night as graduation ceremonies include last steps for those students who face the rest of their lives next week.
Such events are not lost to the students or those with words of encouragement from their ranks and, in the case of Forrest High School, a returning graduate, Steve Turner, who grew up to play football for the Houston Oilers, a coach at Franklin High and Grassland Middle schools in Williamson County as well as a school resource officer at the Nashville School of Arts after patrolling Metro streets as a motorcycle cop for 16 years.
"I talked to them about my life and growing up in Chapel Hill, that not everything was good, pretty or ugly, but you've got to stay focused," Turner said Wednesday of his earlier discussion with seniors during his baccalaureate message. "Life isn't easy.
"I had goals... I wanted to play ball, plus God is in my life," Turner said, so he put Him "in a position to push me through... Without that, I wouldn't be able to go to college and to play ball."
The SRO in Metro recalled his principal, Norman Henson, who administered corporal punishment, saying, "'Grab a hold of the desk, 'cause here it comes.'"
Turner, 50, said he believes Henson was thinking that the paddling hurt the administrator more: "He didn't quite say that but he was thinking it [and] My butt was stinging [but] I guess it worked out good.
"Your attitude becomes your paint brush," he said. "People helped me because I had the right attitude. It helps you."
Turner remains a friend to his long-time acquaintances in Marshall County and he owns land at Chapel Hill.
"I always enjoyed coming home to Chapel Hill and family, going hunting and fishing," he said. He hunts rabbits and goes fishing with Curtis Johnson, a UPS deliveryman known in Lewisburg for his friendly and honest nature.
Turner's advice to graduates: "Even through the stuff, you always have choices. You can be bitter or make it better."
Meanwhile, Cornersville seniors were enjoying their Senior Brunch in the school cafeteria Thursday morning in anticipation of graduation that night.
At Marshall County High School, two students were selected to speak at graduation ceremonies. They were Charleigh Beth Cagle, 18, the daughter of Bob and Elaine Cagle in the Berlin Community, and Aaron Wiles, 18, son of Mike and Melanie Wiles of McBride Road.
The co-graduation speakers reflected on the memories of high school and using that as an inspiration for success after high school, Cagle said. In the fall she will be a freshman at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville majoring in political science.
Wiles is going to Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., to study business and communications.
"I'd like to do anything in life that could change people's lives," Wiles said. "I'm a people person, whether it's at a bank or as a journalist... I'd like to be around people and help people. I'd like to be an educator, possibly."
His message: "Use what you've learned in high school. Remember your friends, teachers." Abide by your morals and values.
MCHS guidance counselor Ginger Tepedino says that over the years the school's graduates split about 50-50 on college or the work world as their next step.
"But this year it's probably going to be a little lower with about 45 percent going off to college," Tepedino said, agreeing one of the reasons is the economy. "I even look for the scholarships to be lower. The belts are tightened this year."
As of Tuesday there were "about 189" graduating seniors, but that could change. "We had about 16-17 who graduated at Christmas."
At beginning of the year, the senior class numbered some 210-215 students, she said. The reduction is a result of transfers and various other reasons.
Cornersville High School's 87 graduating seniors comprise the largest graduating class for the school, guidance counselor Edna London said.
The school's valedictorian, Katie Pigg, daughter of Jim and Lynn Pigg, was set to speak Thursday evening when London said, "We will announce the honors the students receive, four year Beta Cub members, Tennessee Scholars, and our honor graduates; 28 of them. Merit-based scholarships will be announced, too."
Sixty percent of Cornersville's graduates plan to go to college and 40 percent to work. London announced that her seniors have won a total of $741,550 in merit-based awards, emphasizing that this figure does not include need-based financial aid.
"And we have one who's currently serving in the military," London said of Pfc. Alyssa Danielle Rhyner, who's with a military intelligence battalion at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas. "She graduated in December and went right into the military."