Just the Facts

It’s Graduation Season

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Deena Bouknight

Seniors at five Macon County schools are wrapping up testing, projects, internships, and more in preparation for their final “walk” at an upcoming graduation. Each school, in its own way, recognizes stellar students who have achieved milestones in their areas of interest. Franklin High School (FHS) on May 9 at its annual Class Day, spotlighted seniors who, for a number of reasons, were standouts. 

“This year has been a whirlwind. I blinked and it was Class Day,” said new FHS principal Blair King, formerly assistant principal. King stepped into the principal position this school year when Mickey Noe became chief academic officer and director of federal programs for the Macon County School System. “It was a bit surreal. For eight years I sat behind the podium and assisted Mr. [Barry] Woody and then Mr. Noe. For me to be at the podium this year was humbling and truly an honor.” 

During Class Day, two staff members are recognized, but the emphasis is primarily on students. The Support Person of the Year is Daniel Gibson, while the Teacher of the Year is Michele Kussow, health science instructor and a registered nurse.  

“I am incredibly honored and humbled to be recognized as the FHS Teacher of the Year,” said Kussow. “As a Franklin High graduate, coming back as a teacher and being named Teacher of the Year fills me with immense pride and gratitude. It reaffirms my commitment to providing the best possible education to my students and inspires me to continue striving for excellence in the classroom.”

Besides being a FHS alum, another full-circle moment for Kussow was instructing senior Claire Hovis, recipient of the Nursing Fundamentals Award. Claire was a pediatric patient of Kussow’s “many years ago when she was a baby,” said Kussow, “and now she is graduating and I had the honor of teaching her to be a nurse’s aide.”

Kussow said the Teacher of the Year Award also served to remind her “of the importance of our work as educators and the positive impact we can have on the lives of our students and the community as a whole. I am truly grateful for this honor and look forward to continuing to make a difference in the lives of my students.”

“We truly have the best teachers and support staff you will ever find,” King noted.

TEACHER OF the Year Michele Kussow, health science instructor and a registered nurse, shared the Class Day spotlight with Nursing Fundamentals Award recipient Claire Hovis. Interestingly, as a pediatric nurse Kussow attended to Claire when she was a baby.

Students in the Spotlight

Even though Macon County is spread out, encompassing roughly 520 square miles, with a population of around 30,000, FHS offers much in the way of varied educational opportunities to meet distinct needs. 

King explained, “[There are] situations where you have a child that struggles in math and English, but you come across them in carpentry or welding and they are masters of their craft. To see a student who struggles to come to school do a complete 180 by finding a passion in our nursing or early childhood programs … those are the ‘aha’ moments. [FHS is] providing every opportunity for a student to experience success, and success will look different for everyone. You can’t approach education with a cookie-cutter mentality.

HOPE SMITH was one of dozens of FHS seniors recognized on Class Day for achievements and outstanding performance in a variety of areas. Hope, along with Thomas Reed Raby, received the school’s Citizenship Award.

“Anywhere you look at FHS, there is something somewhere for a student to be involved with, whether it is found in an elective course, athletics, drama, band, Interact, FFA, FBLA, FCA, and the list goes on. The course offerings in core areas and elective areas are outstanding.”

A look at the list of recognition categories presented at the 2023-24 FHS Class Day solidifies the numerous avenues students can pursue academically, athletically, and militarily – as well as in service to the school, the community, and to individuals: 

  • Marine Corps Distinguished Athlete Award: Gracie Elliott and Barrett Stork
  • Marine Corps Scholastic Excellence Award: Rylee Cassada and Elijah Cochran
  • Marine Corps Semper Fidelis Award for Musical Excellence Award: Connor Cooper
  • Marine Corps Faculty Appreciation Award: Becka Dulaney
  • ACT- Highest Composite Score: Frederick Bengtson
  • ACT- English Top Score: Barrett Stork
  • ACT- Math Top Score: Barrett Stork
  • ACT- Reading Top Score: Frederick Bengtson
  • ACT- Science Top Score: Frederick Bengtson
  • English: Emma Breeden
  • French: McKenzie Holland and Frederick Bengston  
  • Mathematics: Logan Guynn and Caedmon Stork
  • Science: Caedmon Stork
  • Social Studies: Gracie Elliott and Logan Guynn 
  • Spanish: Joshua Vernelson
  • Fellowship of Christian Athletes: Hope Smith, Logan Guynn, and Reed Raby
  • Future Business Leaders of America: Cassie Pendergrass and Annarose Warman
  • Senior Class President: Gracie Elliott
  • Skills USA: Josh Mason
  • Student Council: Hope Smith and Aaron Jennings
  • Art: Swarti Robinson, Emma Wolf, and Luis Montanez
  • Marching Band: Claire Ballard
  • Symphonic Band: Connor Cooper
  • Jazz Band: Bernie Cerri
  • Color Guard: Zoe Riddering
  • Pottery: Natalia Chavez and Maggie Collins
  • Theatre: Kara Marr and Logan Russo
  • Unify Student Leaders: Emma Carruthers and McCall Sanders
  • Yearbook Editor: Finley Lewis
  • Agriculture: Logan Bradley
  • Business: Noah Carpenter and Patrick Faetz
  • Early Childhood Education: Emily Hill and Emily Rubio
  • Emergency Medical Technician: Maggie Collins
  • Family and Consumer Science:  Lisbeht Dominguez Martinez and Emma Hawkins
  • Medical Assisting: Rylee Cassada and Allison Cruz                                     
  • Nursing Fundamentals: Claire Hovis and Adrian McKinley
  • Welding: Clint Cabe and Branson Collins
  • Baseball: Malachi Hayes
  • Women’s Basketball: Cassidy Parker and Avery Williamson
  • Men’s Basketball: Braxton Deal
  • Women’s Bigger-Faster-Stronger (BFS): Lauren Shannon and Annarose Warman
  • Men’s BFS: Braxton Deal and Reed Raby
  • Cheer: McKenzie Holland and Lauren Shannon
  • Women’s Cross Country: Rylee Cassada and Claire Hovis
  • Men’s Cross Country: Logan Russo and Barrett Stork
  • Football: Jonathan Gibson and Lucas Shope
  • Men’s Golf: Cooper Guffie, Ashton Shope, and Cameron Trubicza
  • Women’s Soccer: Julia Estes and Lilly Whitesides
  • Men’s Soccer: Jaydon Pevia and Frankie Vallez
  • Softball: Olivia Birchard and Avery Moffitt
  • Women’s Swimming: Claire Ballard
  • Men’s Swimming: Jose Gomez
  • Women’s Indoor Track: Hope Smith and Boston Stringer
  • Men’s Indoor Track: Elijah Cochran and Aaron Jennings
  • Women’s Outdoor Track: Claire Ballard and Talley Kinsland
  • Men’s Outdoor Track: Braxton Deal
  • Unify: Jacob Gilman 
  • Women’s Volleyball: Jocelyn Rios, Jaclyn Rios, and Angelica Roca
  • Men’s Volleyball: Kaden Martini and David Rubio
  • Women’s Tennis: Logan Guynn, Laura Holland, and Lydia Holland
  • Women’s Wrestling: Lilly Whitesides 
  • Men’s Wrestling: Wyatt Browning  

Last but Not Least

This year’s FHS student leaders recognized were Emma Breeden (a contributing writer intern for Macon Sense) and Patrick Faetz. 

BLAIR KING, FHS principal

“I cannot say enough about our Student Leadership group that has been dramatically changing the culture of FHS,” said King. “They consistently find ways to recognize students and staff and will go out of their way to make FHS a welcoming and better place. Student leadership also helps administrators connect with the student body. It’s the bridge for us.”

“My senior year has been a whirlwind of amazing moments,” commented Emma Breeden. “Class Day was so special to me because I received the Leadership and English awards. English is my passion, and the leadership class was the most impactful part of high school.”

The School Spirit Award is one of FHS most prestigious awards, according to King. It is presented to students who best exemplify and promote pride in their school. The award is given to seniors “with no regard to personal gain or recognition … who enthusiastically give of themselves to not only generate interest in various activities, but also to elicit student body support for fellow students involved in extracurricular activities.” 

On Class Day, the School Spirit Award was presented to Emma Hawkins and Patrick Faetz. 

“I was genuinely surprised when my name was called, like I 100% was not expecting it,” shared Emma Hawkins. “It was nice to know that my efforts in trying to be a good leader every day, as well as having enthusiasm throughout my day, was recognized. It will definitely impact my future, knowing that what I try to do every day is being seen, and it feels good to know that what I am doing serves a purpose.”

The highest honor, the Citizenship Award, went to Hope Smith and Thomas Reed Raby. Criteria for this award are that selected students “exhibit honesty, integrity, and a willingness to assume responsibility. Not only do these students demonstrate pride in their school and community through their involvement in various activities, but they exhibit genuine concern for broader issues affecting society as a whole.”

“It truly was such an honor to receive the Citizenship Award,” said Hope Smith. “I am in complete awe and truly humbled. It impacted me by allowing me to remember what is most important. I chose to stay away from social media all of high school so that I could focus on what really matters. I think the most important thing is to love God, and out of an overflow to love others abundantly and to make a difference wherever I am.” 

Upcoming senior graduations in Macon County: Bartram Academy (May 24), Highlands School (May 25), Franklin High School (May 30), Nantahala School (May 31), and Macon Early College (June 1).