CHESTERTOWN — You’re not crossing the finish line. Instead, you’re just completing another lap in the race of life, Pastor Shane Lankford told the graduates at his alma mater Chestertown Christian Academy on Friday night.

This was Lankford’s first commencement as pastor of Chestertown Baptist Church, having succeeded longtime pastor Mel Brindley.

When he graduated 26 years ago, “I had a thousand ideas and a million dreams, but not one of them was to return to speak to four young women and two young men who are about to take the same walk as I did,” Lankford said in an opening that instantly connected him with his soon-to-be fellow alumni.

He said he felt unworthy, but humbled to preach the commencement message.

Lankford reminded the graduates that they would be the authors of their stories. Tonight the proverbial pen was being placed in their hands, and the page was empty.

“Choose to make a life,” he said matter-of-factly. And place Jesus in the center.

“As you leave this place, leave your ego and your excuses behind. Leave your everything … Tell God, ‘These are my hopes and my dreams and desires and aspirations, but tonight I am laying them down to make sure I have a firm grip on you.’”

Lankford closed by saying, “May this be the beginning of a beautiful chapter.”

Chestertown Christian Academy celebrated its 40th commencement on the eve of the extended Memorial Day weekend, with ceremonies in the adjoining Chestertown Baptist Church. The class was led by valedictorian Emily Clark and salutatorian Caleb Eichler, who will attend Chesapeake College in the fall.

Eichler, who will study landscape management and design, received scholarships totaling $650.

Clark has enrolled in the radiological science program. She received scholarships totaling more than $2,000, including the $1,000 Sarah and Rachel Baugher Scholarship as the graduating senior with the highest grade point average.

The other members of the Class of 2019 are Layla Brand (Sgt. Preston Ashley Foundation Scholarship), Rebekah Frain, Rebecca Meikle (Bill Jones Christian Service Award) and Paul Myers (scholarships from the Kent Ruritan Club, Chester Lodge of the Masons and the Eastern Star).

In voting by the faculty, high school juniors and their senior classmates, Meikle was chosen as Miss CCA and Eichler was selected Mr. CCA as the best representatives of what it means to be a Chestertown Christian Academy student.

Lankford led the processional, followed by the Class of 2019.

Each of the graduates presented roses to their parents and others who have played significant roles in their lives.

Alumni testimonials were given by Hannah Pfadt ‘15 and Pastor Alex Newton ‘07. Both said their teachers had high expectations for them but also made sure they were given every opportunity to succeed.

“It’s been a great ride and I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Eichler said in his senior speech. He thanked his teachers for the “endless hours” they had invested in him as a student and a young man.

Meikle, who is headed to Pensacola Christian College to study criminal justice and communications, said the biggest lesson she learned at CCA was the difference between being a good student and a God-honoring student. She thanked the staff, with a special shout-out to teacher Amanda Tuttle Smith.

Clark said she had gained a lot of “head knowledge” as well as “heart knowledge” since transferring to CCA as a fourth-grader, and she was especially grateful for the spiritual knowledge she had acquired.

In the formal ceremony, which took place in the front of the church in the altar area, Lankford presented the diplomas and Principal Joseph Baugher turned the tassel on the cap of each of the graduates.

The rising seniors, after being passed the “torch,” led the recessional, each carrying a battery-operated candle.

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