OHA pays tribute to seniors, fallen classmate

The Bales Family Scholarship winners pose with the Bales family - Amy, Drew and Patrick.
Staff Writer

Twenty-three seniors will receive their diplomas when Oak Hill Academy holds graduation ceremonies May 10.

The class includes a set of twins, Madison and Lexie Pruden, who happen to be headmaster Cathy Davis’ granddaughters, two Eagle Scouts in Kendrick Langford and Grayson Easterling, and two students with IV at the end of their names, Ashley Gordon Cullum IV and Thomas Grayson Easterling IV.

One of the group, Charles Raines, knows where he’ll be June 25, shipping off for his training in the U.S. Navy where he’ll spend at least the next four years on active duty and then four in the Reserves.

Friday, the 23 were honored on Senior Awards Day with recognition and scholarships — the class has earned a total of $1,196,268 in scholarship and financial aid offers — paying tribute to the students’ hard work and successful academic careers. Valedictorian Reagan Freeman, who also is student body president, and Salutatorian Kendrick Langford picked up many of the “highest” average honors. Although, some provided humorous moments, such as Ethan Bryan getting the special honor, a golden glitter-coated paint brush, for the highest average in art.

Lucas Birmingham, Nate Lamkin, Emma Kate Russell and Mackenzie Wablington received the Headmasters Awards.

Families provided emotional tributes to loved ones.

Easterling received the Matt Posey Memorial Scholarship presented by the West Point Junior Auxiliary in memory of Matthew Glynn Posey, the son of H.D. Posey and Lynn Young Posey who died in 1991 before his third birthday. Lynn Posey is a life member of the Junior Auxiliary.

Lamkin received the Taylor Dragoo Memorial Scholarship from his parents, Steve and Sherry. Dragoo, would would have been a member of the class of 2017, died from injuries suffered in a four-wheeler accident.

Local businesses and industries helped with educational goals. Freeman and Caroline Jester received scholarships from North Mississippi Medical Center-West Point and Caroline Mobley received the Steel Dynamics scholarship.

Civic clubs and community groups also contributed.

Wablington received the West Point Rotary Club scholarship, Cullum the American Legion scholarship, Freeman and Langford the Growth Alliance scholarships, Freeman the Pilot Club math scholarship, Anna Kate Bowen the Aberdeen Rotary scholarship, Wablington the DAR Good Citizen Award, and Freeman the Anchor Club Award for having the most project hours.

But while the day paid tribute to 23 who were present, it also belonged to one who was lost.

In August 2017, just days before the start of their junior year, Thomas Lee Bales died in a swimming accident at Smith Lake in Alabama. His name and his family — parents Amy and Patrick and younger brother Drew — have remained an emotional and inspirational part of the class.

That was no more evident than Friday.

When their son died, the Bales family established a scholarship in his name. Students who applied had to write essays about what T-Lee, as he was known, meant to them. The family was so touched by all five essays they awarded each senior — Nate Lamkin, Lucas Birmingham, Anna Kate Bowen, Caroline Mobley and Carter Armstrong — a scholarship.

The baseball team sets aside funds from its annual benefit golf tournament for a scholarship in Bales’ honor. That went to Ash Cullum.

And with each award came tears as the Bales family shared special moments with students they’ve watched grow up.

But the depth of the emotions came at the end.

First, Lamkin, the senior class president, presented the school a gift from the class, a granite statue of Bales that will stand outside the school’s football stadium.

Then Lamkin and Raines, representing the class, gave the family a plate emblazoned with T-Lee’s jersey number 9 supported by angel wings. It was signed by each class member.

Lamkin struggled with the presentation. The family’s emotions flowed. Class members teared up. As Lamkin said, it was obvious their classmate will never be forgotten.