HARRISONBURG — For the last couple of years, Jada Short spent part of her school day at Massanutten Technical Center learning to be a dental assistant.

In the fall, Short plans to enroll in the dental hygienist program at Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton.

“I wanted to do something to help people,” said Short, 18, of Elkton. “I want to make people’s smiles brighter.”

Short was among 182 East Rockingham High School seniors to receive their diplomas Saturday night during the school’s ninth commencement ceremony, held at James Madison University’s Convocation Center. It was the largest class in school history.

Grace Rogers, the senior class president, started her speech with a quote from Winnie the Pooh: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

She told her classmates that the time they spent in high school equaled about 5% of their lives and that they have already lived roughly 20% of their total lives.

Rogers questioned what will they do for the remaining 80%.

“What makes life valuable is that it doesn’t last forever,” she told the students. “Let’s learn to find joy in the boring and mundane. Have fun in whatever you’re doing. Life is too short to be unhappy.”

Savannah Buckmaster, the student council association president, encouraged her classmates to fight their fears.

Buckmaster told the students that she used to be afraid of public speaking. At one time, she said, she probably couldn’t have spoken at a graduation with roughly a thousand set of eyes staring at her.

But with the support of her teachers, she overcame her fear.

“High school has truly prepared us for our future,” she said. “We are all capable of great things.”

Retired Army Lt. Col. James P. Reese served as the commencement speaker.

Reese founded TigerSwan, a global risk management consulting agency, in 2008 after 25 years in the Army.

During his military career, he spent 10 years on Delta Force serving in several roles, including troop commander.

Reese focused his speech on passion.

He told the students to follow their dreams, not anyone else’s.

“I want you do want your passion is … what makes your heart beat faster,” he said. “If you leave here tonight not doing what you’re passionate about, you’re wasting your time.”

Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6267 or pdelea@dnronline.com. Follow Pete on Twitter @pdeleaDNR

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