BILOXI -- East Central High School valedictorian Sydney Jones told fellow graduates Tuesday at the Coat Coliseum that they may not have their choice of milk with their country-fried steak when they go out into the world, but their future is still bright.
"I think East Central was so great because the students and faculty are so welcoming of everyone," she said. "We accept people who are different and of all personalities."
Jones and her classmates earned more than $3.5 million in scholarships. She's headed to Mississippi College to pursue an undergraduate degree, then plans to get a master's in physical therapy.
Jones recalled watching her older sister address the class of 2013 as its valedictorian.
"I wanted so desperately to be standing where she was standing and to be experiencing the same phase of life that she was experiencing," she said.
She got her chance. She spoke about the fun times and a future that may not include a lunch break with country-fried steak and their choice of milk. "Is there really life after the lunch line?" she said.
"I want to offer you the formula for overcoming life's challenges. Unlike a math formula that works only for specific problems, though, this formula works for every single problem you will encounter. The only thing you are required to do is let God take care of your problems for you."
She said it's time to go out into the world and share their unique gifts.
"Have open minds, but don't compromise your values," she said. "Laugh at yourself. Laugh when you're happy. Laugh when it's all you can do. Just laugh."
Salutatorian Brent Baria is headed to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, then Mississippi State to pursue an engineering degree.
He reminded students a big paycheck doesn't make you successful.
"Rather, your success is determined by your relationships with friends and family, the personal achievements that you are proud of and the mistakes you have made. Mistakes are what make us human and all of our choices, good and bad, have led us to this moment. Making it here means your choices have been all right so far, so keep it up."