A celebration amidst grief

Published 9:52 pm Saturday, June 9, 2012

Graduating seniors from First Baptist Christian School listen as class valedictorian Abby Cockrell speaks during commencement exercises at Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church on Saturday.

FBCS graduation becomes a moving tribute

In a school with a graduating class of only 14, things that affect one student tend to affect them all.

Such was the case for First Baptist Christian School’s graduating class on Saturday as they gathered at Westminster Reformed Presbyterian Church for their commencement ceremony.

With the death of the father of salutatorian Brooke Kessler fresh on the minds of students, families, faculty and friends, there was hardly a part of the graduation proceedings that did not bear the dual hallmarks of a memorial and a commencement.


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Master Chief Petty Officer Richard J. Kessler Jr., 47, a logistics specialist with 28 years of service, was found deceased in his berthing compartment aboard the USS Enterprise on June 8 as that ship conducted operations with the Fifth Fleet in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to a press release from the U.S. Navy.

The Navy listed Kessler’s home as Gulfport, Fla.

FBCS high school Bible teacher and athletic director told the crowd attending the graduation ceremony on Saturday that the school was dedicating the proceedings to Kessler’s memory.

After being informed of her father’s death, Brooke Kessler said as she stood to give the salutatorian’s address, “I didn’t want to stand up here and give this speech.”

She then proceeded to remind her classmates about the fleeting character of life and the responsibility they have to make the most of it.

“Time really does not change,” she said. “We learn to cherish the time we are given.”

Kessler also admonished her fellow graduating seniors to “be an inspiration to others,” both to those they know personally and to strangers who see them going about their daily business.

“We came out better and stronger than we ever were before,” valedictorian Abby Cockrell said. But she reminded her classmates that it took hard work on the part of many other people to bring forth that result.

“These teachers, these kind, godly men and women are what got us here today,” she said, looking out over the teachers and family members gathered in the church sanctuary.

Three different slideshows reminded the students, as well as their family and friends, about the many experiences they’d had while attending First Baptist Christian School, and the keynote speaker, Susan Glover, whose roles at the school have included everything from public relations to first grade teacher, recalled teaching some of Saturday’s graduates in her first, first-grade class.

“This class and I go way back,” she said, introducing a slideshow of images from that first-grade class.

Glover also alluded to the loss of Brooke Kessler’s father, telling the graduates, “Your faith has been shaken at times, but that means it’s growing.”

She said she had asked God for more love in her life prior to joining the school’s teaching staff in 2000, and He had rewarded her beyond her hopes.

“You are one of His love letters to me,” she said, encouraging the students to “see rainbows and make big plans and wishes” once they’d left the familiar world of high school.

It was a message of hope and faith that was broken occasionally by the speaker’s effort to hold back tears as her speech touched on the pain the Kessler family. And as they sat through the proceedings, perhaps considering the situation of their classmate, many of the students shared in those tears, even in the midst of their celebration.