As my fellow graduating class members collectively begin to submit applications to colleges, join the work-force, or leave to discover new places to call home, our world, previously one which had been coming to a harrowing end, is now expanding into a vast array of choices, paths, and decisions we must make.

We all are beginning to spread our wings, leaving our close-branched nest of Duplin County or staying to fortify the roost of our small town, allowing it to grow stronger.

Whatever you decide to do, wherever you decide to go, and whoever you decide to become, it will never be easy for me to forget the person I’ve grown up beside my entire life, and for that I thank all of you.

To my peers, the ever-maturing children I’ve surrounded myself with five days a week, seven hours a day for the past eighteen years, to those I’ve found later in life, and to the diamond-in-the-rough hearts at East Duplin I’ve discovered and have decided to carry with me, I have grown to know each and every one of you as my family. I have watched you all grow up with me. I have seen the evolution of your style, when you first began wearing makeup, watched your music taste change — and you’ve done the same for me.

To my classmates, whether you are a soon to be an “oh-I-remember-him-from-high school” face or someone I will have lunch with every weekend, or one of the few I will perhaps see walking across the same college campus next year, good luck, wherever you go.

Whether the world for you is as small as Duplin County or a trip across Europe, allow it to breathe you in and exhale you out. Savor it; collect as many new experiences as you can and carry them with you wherever you go.

May the years care for you tenderly and allow the world to shine brightly onto you. Farewell and thank you for my youth.

Caitlin Clinesmith is a senior at East Duplin High School