GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Eleven brave men and women have found an additional family. After weeks of hard work and training, Class 1901 of the Gulfport Fire Academy graduated Monday night from the Gulfport Fire Academy. The graduates will go on to save lives and protect communities across South Mississippi.
It was a poignant moment as one chapter closed and the next began. Gulfport Fire Chief Michael Beyerstedt said he remembers the pride he felt at his own graduation day and hopes the new graduates soak it all in.
“This is something that they will never ever forget," said Chief Beyerstedt. "They have put in a lot of hard work over the last 10 weeks. I hope they remember it fondly.”
And there were many memorable moments for the graduates.
For Lavonda Aldrich, it was the moment her children pinned the badge to her chest.
“That is a moment I will keep with me forever," she said. “Every time I put this badge on I will see the faces of my beautiful children and my mom.”
One of the men who pushed the group the hardest was Fire Training Chief Eric Valles.
“It has been nine weeks that they have been in the class. Nine hard and grueling weeks in the middle of summer," said Valles. "It is a huge accomplishment and we are here to celebrate that.”
That feeling of accomplishment and joy spread throughout the room. The feeling resonated the most with those who were finally accomplishing childhood dreams of theirs.
“This has been one the biggest accomplishments in my life," said graduate and class valedictorian Zachary Layton. “This is one of the biggest accomplishments in all our lives. It means the world to us. This is one of the things we have wanted to do in all our lives, and today it is officially the day we gained our certifications as firefighters.”
The graduates will be serving and protecting Coast communities as members of either the Gulfport Fire Department, the Harrison County Fire Services Squad or the Pascagoula Fire Rescue crew.