(Editor’s Note: A special request was made to run this column that has been printed previously)
May and June are the months for commencements. High schools, colleges and universities present diplomas and confer degrees by the thousands. There are traditions, pomp and protocol surrounding each one.
Locally, one of the most heavily attended graduations is that of Sunshine Pre-School’s K-4 class. For years, I have called it the “hottest ticket in town” and one had better arrive early to claim a seat at Harlan Baptist Church. Director Pat Bryson and her capable staff have found a formula which does not grow tiresome with repetition. It is patriotic and encompasses the history of America.
Visually, the stage decorations represent city, county, state and nation. There they are: The beautiful oversized Stars and Stripes, a replica of the Harlan County Courthouse, the Baxter coal monument and Portal 31. The program is American history in review and in miniature. It is patriotic with a capital “P.”
Four-year-olds can learn to sing songs, memorize speeches, impersonate great historical figures and look darling in their costumes. They can convulse an audience with laughter without meaning to, and they can reduce an audience to tears without knowing why.
Christopher Columbus (Luke Luttrell) started things off followed by “God Bless America” (Lia-Lona Polite, Maggie Clem and Maddie Gray) leading into “How Do You Do, Mr. Pilgrim” (Gabe Farley, Elijah Caudill, Emmalyn Branson, John Eld, Logan Jenkins, Aureliz Roman and Dakota Beaman). George and Martha Washington (Cole Cornett and Kate Drury) came on the scene. They were dressed in Colonial costumes befitting the first president and his lady, who could well be out for a stroll at Mt. Vernon.
After Betsy Ross (Peyshaunce Frimpong) tells the audience her role in history, a group sings “Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue” (Joyanna Cooper, Maliyah Fluker, Kyree Castro and Bethany Bull). Most appropriately thereafter is the audience’s recitation of the Pledge to the Flag in unison lead by Uncle Sam (Brandon Johnson) with Joyanna Cooper as flag bearer.
To bring the program closer to home, several Kentucky Belles in Stephen Foster era costume with dainty parasols, sing “My Old Kentucky Home” (Lacey Lemarr, Abbie Blackburn, Avery Eversole, Riley Card, Jordyn Skidmore, Rihanna Montanaro, Jaylee Cochran and Kiley Baker ). Even closer to home are eight authentically dressed coal miners (Logan Smith, Ryan Day, Braxton Pugh, Drew Sergent, Jordan Rodriguez, Rylin Hoover and Kaulin Reed) complete with hard-hats, dinner buckets and shovels, who sing their rendition of Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.”
Abe Lincoln (Jaxson Perry), John F. Kennedy (Braydon Morris) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Colton Delaney and Kaylen Robinson) follow in quick succession and each has a memorable quote to impart. Then Daniel Boone (Bryson Bryant) tells his children they are mighty lucky to be migrating from North Carolina into Kentucky.
Getting right to the heart of our own local annual summer festival, barefooted boys in overalls and girls wearing gingham dresses reminded us of “Poke Sallet,” that wonderful stuff of which we in the mountains just can’t get enough. (Emilee Nolan, Peyton Bray, Sailum Gibson, Chloe Luttrell, Addison Nolan, Kenzie Shepherd, Brody Brock and Allie Brock)
The military is represented by soldiers, sailors and astronauts as they sing “This is My Country.” (Braylon Manuel, Sawyer Hensley, Colin Lay, Jacob Mcmillion, Ben Pitman and Kaleb Bennett)
Each year one of the highlights of the program is the recitation of the Emma Lazareth poem inscribed on the base of the Statute of Liberty. There she (Brooklyn Couch) is in all her glory, lifting her lamp beside the golden door. It wouldn’t be easy for folks my age to recite all of the 50 states, but these “Patriotic Gals” (Gracie Hensley, Sarakate Fisher, Addison Lemar and Kendall Brock ) know them by heart in alphabetical order and sang a jaunty little song to prove it.
By now, it is time for all the graduates to sing and to believe “I Am Special” (in both Spanish and English) and “We Are The World.” Indeed they are. The program’s finale features soloist Stephen Jones singing “God Bless The U.S.A.” with the 58 graduates.
God bless the Sunshine School and its staff, Minnie Bailey, Cristi Bargo, Edna Blackburn, Jennifer Brock, Sue Frazier, Diane Jones, Jay Moses, Nicole Hoskins, Sylvia Shepherd, Mary Jo Shoemaker, Candy Turbyfill and Katina Yount.
Sunshine School has already begun enrolling students for next year with new little shiny faces, new personalities and new names.
Graduation of the K-4 2015 class will be a repeat, but as someone said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It will again be standing room only and the “hottest ticket in town.”