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Students, teachers share bittersweet goodbyes on last day
Sugar Hill Elementary fifth-graders take a photo of themselves as they prepare for graduation Friday afternoon. From left, they are Fernando Martinez, Liz Deleon and Cheyla Rodriguez, all 11.

As students trudged past Friday morning, North Hall Middle School Principal Shane Rayburn reclined in the front office.

The only thing to note it was different from any other school day was the jester hat he wore.

“It’s a ‘hats off to you’ theme,” he said. “It’s recognizing hard work and the opportunity to have some fun.”

Friday was the last day of school for both Hall County and Gainesville public schools, and both students and teachers were ready to let loose. While those at North Hall Middle wore hats, first-graders at Gainesville Exploration Academy were dancing to the Jackson 5 song “ABC” as part of a schoolwide talent show.

“We’ve had a fabulous year,” Gainesville Exploration Assistant Principal Lesa Hartley said. “It’s a bittersweet day. The children are ready for a break, they’re ready for a little summer fun. Everybody’s tired. But it’s hard to see them leave, and at the end of the day I know there will be some tears.”

From small children to new adults, the county is welcoming nearly 2,000 new graduates. Many of the high schools have already held their graduations, though Johnson and North Hall seniors graduate today. Lanier Career Academy seniors will graduate Tuesday. 

Combined, Gainesville High and Wood’s Mill Academy conferred the honor to 389 students while Hall County Schools graduated 1,508 seniors, not including Lanier Career Academy.

For those returning to K-12 next year, many were given warm goodbyes as teachers went outside and waved as buses pulled out in the afternoon. For Fair Street School students, it was a bit of a historic moment as the first last day at the school’s new building.

While waiting to leave, some students offered advice to both the high school graduates and those who will enter kindergarten next year.

“My advice for them is try hard and don’t give up what you do, even if it’s hard,” Johniyh Thompson, 7, said. “Just keep on trying until you get to the next level, and keep reading and writing as long as you want.”

“Do your work,” Rhyeme Dryden, 7, said. “And don’t mess up.”

“And listen to the teacher when she gives the rules the first time they’re given,” Johniyh added.

While most of the students seemed ready for a break, teachers approached the day with mixed emotions, especially those thinking about the students who would be moving on to different places next year.

“I’m sad to see them go,” North Hall Middle teacher Lisa Watkins said. “When our eighth-graders leave and go to the high school, it’s difficult for them to come back and see us. So I have to maybe go to a ballgame or something to keep in touch.”

Riverbend Elementary teacher Stacey Hodges became teary-eyed when thinking about the past year.

“We’d be lying if we said we weren’t certainly looking forward to recharging,” she said. “It is a relief, recharging ourselves to get ready for the next school year. But I have a heart for this group that just left.”

Summer days may stretch ahead, but another year is just around the corner: Gainesville students go back Aug. 7, while Hall County returns Aug. 8.