Jordan Tolley plays banjo at his high school graduation

It’s a rare one of us who doesn’t remember our high school graduation, though some may recall the occasion with more fondness than others. Except for graduates who missed having a ceremony altogether during the COVID shutdowns, it’s generally a day of pride and joy for students, families, and friends.

Again, for most of us, our primary concern was not tripping on our gown or making a fool of ourself in some way, though there are always a few determined to make a spectacle of their walk.

For Jordan Tolley of Ripley, WV, graduation brought extra stress, as he had been asked by his school to play the National Anthem on his banjo at the start of the ceremony. He had been playing for nearly ten years when graduation rolled around, so he was certainly prepared for this honor, but he must have been nervous in front of all his classmates, teachers, and family.

We asked how this opportunity came to him.

“Earlier this year in the second semester of school, a few of my teachers heard videos of my banjo playing with my musical family that I post on social media. They asked for me if I could bring it to school one day, and I agreed to play a few songs in my classes for them.

When I went to homeroom that morning, I started to pick on my banjo some, and was making an arrangement of the national anthem by ear. This never came to my mind, but some of my classmates heard me play and said, ‘You should play that for our graduation, that would be awesome and significantly different!!’

So I’d been practicing on my arrangement down to the wire, and getting it perfected, so I could do a video to show my principal and the choir director. I asked them if they wanted to hear my version of the Star Spangled Banner and if they needed somebody to play it at our graduation, instead of singing, to make it different.

It’s very rare to have somebody play it rather than singing. They heard my video and agreed, and shared it with the graduation committee for their approval. They heard the video, and said they would love for me to play my arrangement at our 2023 graduation.”

Jordan was also tasked with leading the procession of faculty into the stadium, before he was announced.

So how did he do? See for yourself.

Well done!

Jordan said that it was a very gratifying moment for him.

“I loved the feeling of sharing my gift of talent that God has given me, showing the people in the bleachers, my classmates, and the world that it’s possible to play the national anthem on the banjo. I felt achieved, and adding to that, I graduated that evening!”

Jordan is a very well-rounded young man, and in addition to his banjo skills, he has earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do through his family’s martial arts studio.

Of course, he plays bluegrass banjo as well, with his favorite style being gospel music. Here’s a video of Jordan and his dad, Jamie Tolley, ripping through When We All Get To Heaven.

Keep an eye out for Jordan Tolley, a very talented young man.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.