Rich Reeves, R.A. Long High School’s principal, remembers one of his students telling him, “We don’t want to be known as the ghetto school anymore.”

Reeves credited the class of 2012 with helping change that image during Saturday night’s graduation ceremony at Longview Memorial Stadium: The students signed up for so many advanced placement classes the district had to add more, he said. They painted the school. They reached out to classmates who needed help. Sometimes they picked themselves up from very dark places. And when they saw underclassmen misbehave, they told them, “knock it off; we don’t act like that here.”

“I am convinced that, because of you … people are speaking differently about R.A. Long. You’ve been part of the amazing transformation of our school,” he said. “You’ve stepped up to responsibility.”

He said that, although it’s great that the graduates won an impressive pile of scholarships and awards, “your greatest accomplishment as a class has to be your character.”

Student speaker Matt Sheehy took his classmates on a lighthearted look back at their school years, naming favorite teachers, pranks, sports championships and fun times.

“We were also given inspirational quotes by parents,” he said. “My favorite was, ‘You are what you eat.’ I still don’t remember eating anything tall, dark and handsome.”

Classmate Brent MacKenzie, who also sang the National Anthem for the ceremony, shared a personal tale of darkness and light.

“Education has saved my life, literally,” he said. “Without teachers I would not be standing here today.”

Struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts since the age of 8, the only thing that kept him sane was playing the saxophone and being in a community of musicians, he said. Then as a sophomore he discovered theater, and soon afterward a new passion, singing, and finally a love for opera.

His advice: “Do what you love. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking for it.”

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