Overcoming adversity: Pisgah graduates continue on to next stage of life

Jun. 5—The Pisgah High School graduating class walked the stage Saturday morning at Western Carolina's Ramsey Regional Activity Center, beginning the next steps of their lives in the process.

"We're starting a new chapter of our lives," said graduate Caiden Ingram. "All of us are just wanting to experience life."

Students began lining up downstairs early on in the day. As the clock crept closer to 10 a.m. the anticipation — and nervousness — among the students increased.

"You go through a lot, but it really is one of the better times in your life," said graduate Ty Upton. "As I walk the stage today, I'm thankful for what I've been given and what I've done, but also excited for the opportunities it's going to lead to in the future. I'm stoked, excited, a little bit nervous, a little bit sad. It's a mix of emotions. It's hard to describe it."

For some, that nervousness was amplified by a graduation day performance. Mischa Deese is a member of the Pisgah High School Orion Choir, who performed a trio of songs at the commencement.

"It's very special to me seeing all my classmates graduate," Deese said. "I'm very excited."

The 2024 graduating class at Pisgah has been through a lot. They started their high school experience under the blanket of Covid-19. In their sophomore year, flooding ravaged the Pigeon River — touching the lives of everyone in the greater Canton community.

Their lives continued to be altered during the students' junior year, when the Canton mill that had been the lifeblood of the small town announced its closure.

But just like the community surrounding them in Canton, the graduates didn't allow these hardships to stop them from reaching their goals.

"Our past four years at Pisgah have been nowhere close to easy. However, I feel these events brought us closer as a community," said graduate Ainsley Kovack. "These hardships taught us lessons and connected us."

One of Kovack's fellow graduates, Rudy Patel, agreed with the sentiment that the class was truly connected beyond sharing a commencement.

"It is evident that we as a class are not just a class, but a family," Patel said. "We're a family built upon loyalty, dedication, inclusivity and, most importantly, altruism."

Principal Clint Conner recognized the students for their determination in overcoming the obstacles along the way.

"Life will present challenges and moments of uncertainty, but we always have the power to find hope and joy in the adversity," Conner said.

This year's graduating class overcame all of the adversity in a big way — racking up over $1 million in scholarships collectively.

"This is a great achievement for each of these young individuals," Conner said.

The graduates were also quick to recognize those who helped get them to the point they are at today, including teachers, support staff and the community.

"I wouldn't have made it this far without the qualities given to me by the teachers that I've had," Patel said. "They've given us knowledge, have been our mentors, motivators and biggest supporters."

Upton said that despite beginning his high school career under the cloud of a pandemic, he soon realized that Pisgah High School is a special place.

"I believe, and I might be a little biased, that it's one of the better schools in Western North Carolina — not only the people but the teachers, the staff, the environment, the school itself. I want to thank the janitors for keeping it so clean," Upton said.

Conner thanked the dedicated community of Canton for always showing up and showing out for Pisgah — whether that be in athletics or elsewhere.

"I'd like to thank the entire Canton community for always showing up to support the Pisgah nation," he said.

That support system built in and around Pisgah is part of what makes the school so special to its students.

"As a kid, high school was something I always looked forward to," Kovack said. "My four years at Pisgah High School exceeded my expectations."

The things learned inside the walls of Pisgah — everything from what is in the lesson plans to life lessons students have learned — will help these graduates in the next steps of their journeys.

"These past four years have taught me a lot," Deese said. "I've learned a lot of lessons. I hope it helps me move forward in college and life."

Following the ceremony, the 209 graduates went their separate ways one last time.

"It's bittersweet knowing this is the last time we'll all be in the same room together," Kovack said.