Why has this graduation become so special? Director Pat Bryson and her capable staff have found a formula which does not grow tiresome with repetition. It is patriotic and encompasses the history of America. Visually, the patriotic stage decorations represent city, county, state and nation. There they are: the beautiful oversized Stars and Stripes, a replica of the Harlan County courthouse, the Baxter coal monument and Portal 31, all surrounded by red, white and blue balloons.
This year’s class was the school’s largest, numbering 82 4-year olds in golden academic robes and mortarboard caps. They received their diplomas and individual trophies at the onset which was just the beginning of what the audience has come to see and hear. The program is American history in review…in miniature. It is a patriotic program with a capital “P.”
Four year-olds can learn to sing songs, memorize speeches, impersonate great historical figures and look darling in their costumes. They can convulse an audience with laughter without meaning to, and they can reduce an audience to tears without knowing why.
Christopher Columbus (Dylan Cox) starts things off followed by “God Bless America” (Haley Huff, Isabella Griffey and Kaitlyn Daniels) leading into “How do you do Mr. Pilgram and How do you do Mr. Indian.” (Hannah Colinger, Laura McMillion, Luke Skidmore, Tripp Hensley, Whitney Wilson, Will Shepherd, Dylan Clem, Dylan Goldsberry, Kimberly Blanton, Krista Blanton, Lindsey Skidmore, R.J. Cotton, and Seth Coogle).
Then, George and Martha Washington come on the scene. (Kade Napier and Kamryn Blanton) They are dressed in Colonial costumes befitting the first president and his lady, who could well be out for an afternoon’s stroll at Mt. Vernon.
After Betsy Ross (Sydney Powers) tells the audience her role in history, a group sings “Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue.” (Claire Sawyers, Gracie Baird, Hunter Cooper, Jaylyn Dillman, Kaylee Roark, Maggie Shelton, and Reagan Hamrick).
Most appropriately thereafter is the audience’s recitation of the Pledge to the Flag in unison lead by Uncle Sam (Andew Daniels) and flag bearer (Jackson Stephenson).
To bring the program closer to home, almost a dozen Kentucky Belles, in Stephen Foster era costumes, complete with dainty parasols, sing “My Old Kentucky Home.” (Abbie Jones, Addison Jackson, Audrey Goss, Chloe Bolton, Karagan Baker, Lexie Worthington, Madison Spurlock, Rhianna Rose Jackson, Sarah Boggs and Emily Bowling)
Even closer to home, are 10 authentically dressed coal miners, complete with hard hats, dinner buckets and shovels, who bear down lustily on the singing of Ernie Ford’s “16 Tons.” (Bradley Brock, Brody Owens, Haydon Butler, Hunter Noe, James Ryan Howard, Jayce Brown, Jonathan Pope, Luke Heflin, Nate Montenaro and Shaun Burnette)
Abe Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. follow in quick succession and each has a memorable quote to impart. (Paul Robbins, Gavin Brittain, Ade Akisanya and Asia Young)
Then Daniel Boone (Matthew Nunez) tells his children they are mighty lucky to be migrating from North Carolina into Kentucky.
Getting right to the heart of our own local annual summer festival, barefooted boys in bib overalls and girls wearing gingham dresses, reminded us of “Poke Sallet,” that wonderful stuff of which we in the mountains just can’t get enough. (Brayden Noe, Della Maggard, Faith Saylor, Gage Bailey, Gracie Shelton, Harlee Sergent, Keelee Miniard, Landon Smith, Neveah Bailey, Noah Sharp, Scout Mullins and Shannell Carroll)
The military is represented by soldiers, sailors and astronauts as they sing “This is My Country.” (Brett Wesley Johnson, Caleb Coogle, Jeremy Goldsberry, Dakota Farley, Jon Paul Miller, Kenton Hensley, Wyatt Hensley, Austin York, Braydon Howard, Mason Polk and Peyton Thompson)
Each year one of the highlights of the program is the recitation of the Emma Lazareth poem inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty. There she (Miranda Brock) is in all her glory, lifting her lamp beside the golden door.
It wouldn’t be easy for folks my age to recite all of the 52 states, but these “Patriotic Gals” know them by heart in alphabetical order, and sing a jaunty little song about them to prove it. (Ally Middleton, Ava Nunez, Carley Thomas and Savannah Hill)
By now, it is time for all the graduates to sing and to believe, “I Am Special,” (in both English and Spanish) and “We are the World.” Indeed they are. They are special and our country’s future.
The program’s finale featured Superintendent David Johnson singing with the 82 graduates, “God Bless the U.S.A.”
God Bless the Sunshine School which is thriving in its new building in Fairview Addition. It has already begun enrolling students for next year with new little shiny faces, new personalities and new names. Graduation of the Sunshine School’s K-4 2013 class will be a repeat, as it has been in previous years, but as someone said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It will again be SRO, and “the hottest ticket in town.”