By Jack Orloff
Many Austin ISD students had to demonstrate resilience this school year, but it was perhaps best illustrated Wednesday evening when Anderson High School students sang the national anthem in the dark, with cell phone flashlights from the stands the only light in the building.
This impromptu performance was necessary after the power went out just as the ceremony was scheduled to begin. Anderson graduates, like so many other students this past year, made the best out of a difficult situation.
"I mean the lights turned off, mics went out and everything.” said Anderson graduate Kelby Hickerson. “We had to use a megaphone."
While the Anderson graduation was especially on theme for the year, every graduation was unforgettable for the school communities that participated. Proud family members were seen cheering on loved ones while wiping tears from their eyes.
“It sure is nice to all be in one room isn’t it?” Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde said. "Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”
Graduation began with the Rosedale ceremony, which took place at the campus.
A school for medically fragile students, Rosedale honored its handful of graduates by reciting key facts of each student.
Principal Elizabeth Dickey said it was a special day for the Rosedale family.
“We are so proud of our graduates,” she said. “At Rosedale, we have three mottos, Independence Taught Here, We Can Do Hard Things, and We Belong to Each Other. Your efforts to learn more and achieve more than anyone ever knew you could show us that we can all do hard things.”
Students and families cheered at Burger Stadium as the students of Garza Independence High School walked the stage to get their diploma. The gray clouds forming couldn’t deter the joy of the moment.
Principal Linda Webb said each student at Garza made a choice to seek out an educational system that worked better for them.
“After making the commitment, you carved the path with the help of some incredible teachers to earn your high school diploma,” she said. “In your years at Garza, I believe you’ve learned not only about yourselves, but also what each of us does individually affects us as a whole. Working together to meet our individual needs while adding to the strength of the whole is truly what being a Garza Griffin is all about.”
Student Zia Malangalila said the school brings together students from many backgrounds together under one name: Garza.
“So many times we wanted to stop, we did not see the point of finishing and we just wanted to give up,” she said. “But you wanted something more, you wanted this diploma and nothing, I mean nothing, was going to stop you.”
Ann Richards YWL
Tears continued to flow from the stands as proud family members sat patiently, listening to speeches excited to see their graduates walk across the stage.
“Ann RIchards has prepared us to welcome the unknown, to sometimes trust in the things you don’t understand,” Valedictorian Sabine Jimenez-Wlliams said. “Some of you may know what your purpose is. Some of you, like me, have absolutely no idea. But I hope you will find happiness and fulfillment in yourself, even without that understanding.
Jimenez-Williams continued her speech expressing the importance of trusting support from family, friends and teachers.
“Trust that there are people around you, your family, your teachers, your class, that are there to support you through that unknown,” Jimenez-Williams said. “You all have taught me the same thing––to trust there is love around me even when I don’t know it’s there.”
The ceremony continued with a speech from the Salutatorian Lizbeth Frausto Marinze who looked back on her time at Ann Richards.
“We will remember standing together through anything, whether it be the stress of finals week, social activism and civic engagement, or the tribulations of a global pandemic,” Martinze said. “Our individual success is all of our success, and our collective success allows us as individuals to take pride in belonging to such a dedicated, passionate and nonconforming class.”
Principal Kristina Waugh thanked the staff who helped the Class of 2021 through a challenging senior year.
“We are this amazing school of leadership, service and scholarship because they are the role models, our guideposts and the epitome of dedication,” Waugh said. “This year, unlike any other, they’ve shown their dedication to our girls; revamping curriculum, teaching from kitchen tables and trying to navigate both the needs in front of them and the needs on a screen. They managed this work, while navigating between accountability and grace.”
Students could not retain their excitement at Austin High School as they waved to their parents who could not wait to see them walk across the stage at this year's graduation ceremony.
Valedictorian Clayton Kocurek spoke on the important lessons learned from this past year and to be thankful.
“One of the most important lessons I have learned in life is to be thankful for what I have, rather than complain about what I don’t,” Kocurek said. “We can’t change the last year, but we can be thankful for the skills we developed due to the adversity we faced.”
Salutatorian Mateo Blumenthal said he is hopeful for a better future after a year of loss and hardships. Mateo is more than excited for the next chapter in her life.
“I want to end on a hopeful note. Next year will be better,” said Blumenthal. “Though this year has been difficult, I hope that all of you will use the lessons learned this year, of adaptability, of perseverance, of willingness to change, to succeed in your life ahead. Be it college, work, or whatever else I wish you all the best of luck.”
Principal Amy Taylor spoke on the challenging year and the resilience that her staff and students have shown throughout the pandemic.
“Students, needless to say, the past 15 months have been challenging due to the COVID pandemic, but you have shown that anything is possible in the face of adversity,” Taylor said. “We got through this together, as a community, and I couldn’t be more proud of our Maroons. We have this saying at Austin High, it’s been carried down by generations before us and will continue for generations to come...Loyal Forever.”
McCallum High School
Cheers of excitement filled the building as parents, family, and friends listened carefully to each speech given at McCallum High School graduation.
“Sitting here today tells us all that you made it work,” Principal Nicole Griffith said. “You are more resilient than you ever thought and your strength to overcome gives us all hope for the future.”
Valedictorian Aidan Bacon spoke on the importance and the impact of friends and family who have helped him get through the good and the bad.
“This past year has really emphasized the importance and impact of our friends and families,” Bacon said. “It is because of the bonds of our friends our families and teachers that we are where we are today”
The final speech was given by the Salutatorian Genny Traynor, who said she did not expect to be in-person at graduation this year.
“To be completely honest with you, this is not where I thought I’d be standing tonight,” Traynor said. “This year has given us a chance to prove ourselves, overcome obstacles and move on to the next chapter of our lives.”
Navarro Early College High School
The Delco Center was filled with proud families toting gifts, ready to celebrate their graduates in person after a difficult year.
“Today, we end this chapter, which for many of us is a mix of both good and bad,” Valedictorian Perla Sanchez said. “We’ve overcome difficult moments, and can say we’ve come out as better people who are ready to create a positive impact inside and outside our community.”
The speeches continued with the Salutatorian Katerine Gonzalez-Guerrero, who expressed the resilience of her class.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” Gonzalez-Guerrero said. “But I do know that we are more resilient, flexible, and determined than ever before. So, class of 2021 congratulations, I wish you the best of luck in your future.”
Principal Steve Covin spoke on the many obstacles faced this year.
“You each overcame many obstacles this year on your way to this day,” Covin said. “The values of pride, respect, and responsibility will carry you through even the most difficult times. Each and every one of you has made us proud, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds as you continue your life journey.”
Eastside Early College High School
Bright smiles were seen on the faces of students and their families as the weather did not faze the panthers on their graduation day.
Valedictorian Tabish Naqshbandi kicked off the speeches, saying that the knowledge her fellow students have gained is priceless and will carry on throughout life.
"Seniors, please remember that we might take different academic paths from this point forward, but the road to knowledge is free for everyone,” Naqshbandi said. “Knowledge is not limited to those with favorable life circumstances, but it is a limitless treasure for those who have passion in their hearts for pursuing it."
Salutatorian Kavon Carathers spoke on always staying focused and working to overcome the obstacles of life.
“As for any lasting advice for my fellow students, I want to just tell them to set goals for themselves and stay focused on what it is you want to accomplish,” Carathers said. “High school is high school. I do feel like it is how you use high school to help yourself grow and help yourself prepare. There will be obstacles and distractions along the way, but you can deal with them.”
Principal Miguel Garcia spoke on watching the class of 2021 grow into young adults and all the difficult circumstances that they have overcome throughout high school.
"As your principal, I have seen you grow to new heights, raising the bar for future Eastside Memorial Early College High School students,” he said. “More importantly, I have seen you all become young men and women who are ready to take on the challenges your post-high school world will offer. Although life will continue to present obstacles, continue to battle and take advantage of the opportunities offered to you so that you can better your future.”
An eruption of claps and cheers echoed throughout the building as Valedictorian Mignon Nguyen spoke on how strong her fellow students have been throughout this past year.
“Our will has grown so strong that I’m confident that everyone sitting here today can fight any obstacles life will throw at us in the future,” Nguyen said.
The celebration continued with a speech from the Salutatorian Jocelyn Castillo.
“If there is one thing that we should take away from our unique experience, it would be that life will always take us by surprise, but we should never let it have the last word,” Castillo said.
Principal Sterling McGruder said the class of 2021 has proven that the adage, “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”
“And Northeast Early College High School Class of 2021, your work here is done,” he said.
The Cougars could not contain their excitement as they waited patiently for their name to be called at this year's Crockett Early College High School graduation ceremony.
“With everything the pandemic took from us, with every inconvenience, insult and tragedy, it taught us patience, compassion, and most of all, resilience,'' Valedictorian Hanan Brower said. “We were resilient and succeeded despite the odds.”
Salutitiorian Iva Sanchez said she was excited to move onto the next stages of her life.
“I’m going to be honest with y’all, I’m super excited to leave high school...It is finally time to get out of here and pursue your dreams,” Sanchez said. “No matter what path you choose, there are no mistakes, only opportunities”
This is the first graduating class Principal Kori Crawford has had for all four years. Crawford spoke on the journey ahead of the class of 2021.
“As each of you move on to your own new journey, I want you to trust yourselves, light up the world around you, be kind, and live your new life with determination, peace, love, hope and light,” Crawford said. “Last but certainly not least, remain Always Victorious.”
Anderson High School
Students were seen by the light of their cell phones singing the star spangled banner as a power outage darkened the floor at Anderson High School graduation ceremony. However, the power outage did not faze the Trojans as they kept on persevering as they have all year.
"This class can persevere through anything,” Principal Sammi Harrison said. “We did the pandemic. We did the snowstorm. And now tonight, we're persevering again."
Valedictorian Edward Nguyen spoke on the bright future of the class of 2021 and how each student will determine their own path in life.
“We are the next generation of engineers, politicians, doctors, artists, musicians, and
many more who won’t stand for any person or obstacle that stands in our way,” Nguyen said. “We determine our own paths in life, and I encourage every single one of you to not let anyone else dictate your future that will inevitably be filled with brilliance and of course, mistakes.”
Salutatorian Nickhil Anantha said the resilience shown by this year's class will make each one of them stronger and help prepare them for life.
“I know many of y’all are nervous about next year,” Anantha said. “The thought of having to take tests in a classroom setting scares the living daylights out of me. But if we got through this past year struggling through online learning, balancing a job or taking care of younger siblings, we can get through anything. Our combined willpower is stronger than any deterrent life can throw at us.”
LBJ / LASA
The sounds of cheers were heard by proud family members in the stands. Navy robes of LASA grads mixed in with the vivid purple robes of LBJ graduates filled the arena as cheers rang out.
LASA Saluditiorian Miguel Liu-Schlaffini said he wants today’s society to focus more on community.
"Let's see other people beyond their economic worth and grades,” Liu-Schlaffini said.
LASA Valedictorian Samuel Tian, a National Science Olympiad competition medalist who will attend MIT in the fall, spoke about the uncertainty of the 2020-21 year.
LBJ Principal Jon Bailey spoke about this year's class being the superstars of tomorrow.
"You are superstars and the leaders of tomorrow," Bailey said. "Continue to surround yourself with the individuals who truly care about you and have your best interests at heart [...] Make sure you establish a mindset that failure is not an option."
LBJ valedictorian Kenneth Edward Lee Henigan spoke on the accomplishments of overcoming this past year's obstacles.
“On top of bills, school, work, maintaining relationships, making sure our phones stay charged, and trying to figure out our next steps in life, we’re slapped in the face by a pandemic,” said Edward Lee Henigan. “Now, I know most of us have grown used to the current ’conditions.’ But the absurdity of the obstacles we had to overcome in the span of a year must be acknowledged. And that reason is: We are here today. So give yourselves a round of applause for your strong perseverance and relentless resilience."
LBJ salutatiorian Jesus Sanchez-Jaimes, who will attend UT Austin in the fall, said he never expected time to move so quickly.
"I’ve always anticipated this day--but never imagined it would arrive so quickly,” Sanchez-Jaimes said. “Time is both a blessing and a curse--it gives and it takes away."
The pouring rain did not dampen the spirits of the graduating Travis ECHS rebels and their families as they could not contain their excitement.
“No matter what life has ahead of you, remember it is a chapter in your life,” Salutatorian Elizabeth Cruz-Ramierez said. “Experience it, learn from it and grow from it.”
Principal Steele Hantgin spoke next on the importance of community.
“Your graduation from Travis does not mean you are leaving our community,” Hantgin. “You will always be a valued member.”
The Akins Eagles were more than ready to take flight as their 2021 graduation kicked off.
Valedictorian Aisha Lizaola kicked off the ceremony and spoke about the excitement of a new life chapter.
“As we finish up the last touches of this art piece, I would like you all to take a moment to praise yourselves for this great accomplishment and then take one more to acknowledge the people and experiences that have inspired you every day to keep sketching out your brilliant works of art,” Lizaola said . “I wish you all the best, and I truly cannot wait to see the masterpieces you will develop in the next chapters of your life.”
Salutatorian Roger El Bitar continued with his speech, saying that success is lived through your future.
“It’s what we are doing right now to benefit ourselves in the future, and, then, only then, will we experience our success,” Britar said.
Principal Tina Salazar said this is the first part of a long journey toward success.
“But this class is no stranger to success,” Salazar said. “You will be remembered as a group that rose above adversity. It has been my honor and privilege to serve you all.”
The Bowie Bulldogs cheered on their fellow classmates as they walked across the stage at this year's graduation ceremony.
The ceremony began with a speech from the valedictorian Caedon Spencer, who spoke on the difficulties of the pandemic last year.
“I want to fully acknowledge the past year for what it was,” Spencer said. “It was hard, tiresome, and demotivating. However, and this is crucial, we survived. Even in all of the difficulty, there were times that I smiled, I laughed, and I truly felt happy[...] Appreciate this moment of happiness and peace for what it is, and cherish it as we leave here tonight.”
Salutatorian Liana Chen spoke next, thanking her family, teachers and coaches for their guidance and support.
“Thank you for pushing us to our limits and giving us your guidance and support,” Chen said. “This year hasn’t been the easiest, but we took it in stride. Class of 2021, as you embark on your next adventure, cherish the experiences you had at Bowie. I know that all of you will find success in some form.
Principal Mark Robinson was the final speaker. He spoke about the adversity this class has faced and also how proud he is.
“In my 25 years of experience as an educator, I have never known a senior class more dedicated and resilient in the face of adversity,” Robinson said. “From parking limitations to social distancing, they have demonstrated patience, selflessness, endurance and so much more.”