Staff Photo: Keith Farner Former principal Jim Markham speaks to the 2013 graduating class at Mill Creek High School on Thursday night at Mill Creek Community Stadium and Markham Field.
HOSCHTON -- Listening to him speak on stage Thursday night, the delivery of Jim Markham was nothing new for Avery Barrett and Tyler Pace.
Barrett and Pace, 2012 Mill Creek High School graduates, called Markham an amazing man and a really good speaker.
"He's got to be one of the most respected names around," Barrett said. "He was a war hero before he was ever important here at the school."
The graduation ceremony was the first at Mill Creek since Markham retired in December, and the first since the football field was dedicated in his honor. The response when Markham was introduced alongside several administrators and guests on stage was unmistakeable; he drew by far the loudest ovation.
The turf inside Mill Creek Community Stadium where the graduates and administrators sat is named Markham Field in honor of the Vietnam veteran and longtime Gwinnett County administrator who helped open the school in 2004.
Markham has been an educator for 45 years and with Gwinnett since 1991, who served as principal at Parkview (1991-93), Berkmar (1994-2004) and Mill Creek. He retired because of a cancer battle that developed from his exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, but he's remained active around the school in recent months.
His connection to this senior class was only magnified at the field dedication ceremony before this school year's first football game. Markham was given a hat, trophy, a banner signed by every senior and his own letterman's jacket.
In his message to the graduates, Markham recalled their first introduction to the school as freshmen intimidated by their new surroundings, yet "much too cool to appear lost."
"This time, there will be only yourselves determining where to go, how to get there and when to arrive," he said. "No bells to control your schedules. Your teachers and counselors will be conspicuously missing. It'll be completely up to you."
Markham reminded the honorees that their parents, family, teachers, pastors and friends had their back when they were distraught, perplexed, or "heaven forbid, in trouble at school."
"After this evening, all that support will take on a very new perspective," Markham said. "You will absolutely be expected to act, do and think on your own behalves."
Markham said he hoped the decisions made by the graduates were vested in logical processes learned in science classes; the papers they soon would write show that the written word is essential to common understanding and communication.
"We hope that you learned that you are all learners for life," he said. "We, your teachers and friends, have experienced great joy watching you come to the conclusion that you are now responsible and capable, and ready to leave us all behind. It is with love that we wish you farewell."