TIFTON — Tift County High School celebrated graduation Saturday morning at Brodie Field, with nearly 500 young men and women crossing the stage to receive their diplomas.

Student speeches were given by valedictorian Mary "Mae Mae" Collins, J.D. Bengston and James Kemerait. Tift County High Principal Dr. Chad Stone certified all receiving diplomas were certified to graduate. Superintendent Adam Hathaway accepted the graduates.

For the 32nd consecutive year, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College Director of Public Relations Emeritus Mike Chason read the names. A’zaya Hill sang the National Anthem before the ceremony. At the end, the Tift County High chorus led the crowd in singing the alma mater.

Nas, “Mary Poppins” and Walt Whitman were all mentioned in speeches.

Bengston quoted a lyric of the musician’s, “What world is this?” Bengston’s response to that question was “The world is yours.”

Collins referenced “Mary Poppins” with “When every job is complete, there is a sense of bittersweet.” Graduation was such, she said. “It’s been four years of hard work for all of us and when you put that much effort into one goal, it’s totally understandable to have some conflicting feelings.”

Many years later, Collins said the graduates will look back on May 22 and gawk at who they were and where they thought they would be in the future. She urged everyone to not just seize the day, “to be energized at the thought of tomorrow, to be energized by how much potential your hold in your mind and your heart.”

Collins read from Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!,” asking everyone to make their own unique contributions to life.

Kemerait spoke of shared high school memories, including discovering the joy of the chicken tender line in the lunchroom. What he couldn’t talk about, he said, is “about what high school has meant for anyone but myself.” Kemerait invited everyone to look back on their own experiences and how they shaped them.

“We’re graduating, y’all. This is a big deal,” said Kemerait.

Bengston thanked everyone in attendance for their contributions. “We wouldn’t have made it here without you,” he said. Bengston said graduating is “A journey into the unknown.”