With the turning of the tassels and the throwing of their caps, the seniors of Bryan High School and Rudder High School concluded their high school journeys during separate ceremonies Saturday.

“I welcome you to new adventures, and I welcome you to the rest of your life,” Courtney Batiste, senior class vice president at Rudder High School, said to open the noon graduation ceremony.

The students’ four years at Bryan’s two traditional high schools can be summed up in the memories and friendships they take with them.

“Over the past four years, each and every one of us has made countless memories, some we share with the entire student body and others reserved for close friends,” Rudder High School valedictorian Miguel Ochoa said. “Sadly, the last of those memories is being made today as we prepare to say goodbye to Rudder High School.”

Before moving into the main portion of the afternoon ceremony, Rudder Senior Class Secretary Jordan Mitchell asked the students and audience to remember class of 2019 members Jessie Gonzalez and Miguel Castaneda Rodriguez, who died in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Both students were recognized posthumously.

As they look back on their own memories from high school, Ochoa asked the 345 graduates seated on the floor of Reed Arena to think of the people who helped them get to graduation day, taking the moment on stage to thank his family members, teachers and friends.

While some might hold onto the memories they have from high school, Bryan High School valedictorian Kristin Paholek said, others might be itching to get to that next phase of life.

“Even though we complained about high school at some point, we all had some activities, friends that made the process memorable for us,” she said. “From these memories, we have learned many lessons.”

During the morning ceremony at Reed Arena, she encouraged her fellow graduates not to hold onto their high school years too strongly, but to use the “best and worst” of the memories and lessons learned to move forward into their post-high school lives.

“We will remember the lessons we have learned here for a long time,” Joseph Hendrix, a member of the BHS Class Council, said during the reflections portion of the ceremony. “Thank you, Bryan High, for building relationships with us for the past four years.”

Ochoa recounted some of the many lessons he learned also as a student at Rudder High School.

“I learned that failing a test isn’t so bad as long as you pass the next one,” he said. “I learned that with enough determination and coffee, a week’s worth of work can be done in one night. I learned that a world without Google just isn’t a world I want to live in.”

Most importantly, though, he said, he learned things will be OK no matter the odds or the challenges in life.

“As long we have faith in ourselves and in each other,” he continued. “I didn’t learn this from practicing math problems or reading up on Shakespeare. I learned this from watching you, my classmates. We always believe in ourselves, even when others didn’t. I hope this is a mentality we all never lose, even as we move onto the next chapter of our lives.”

Superintendent Christie Whitbeck noted another thing she hopes the students take with them into the future: the Essential Eight.

“These are eight traits that we believe our graduates and that our children, beginning in kindergarten, need to know, that we as adults need to model and that these will make all the difference in them as they move forward in life,” she said during the Rudder graduation ceremony.

She encouraged graduates from both schools to let the eight traits of kindness, tolerance, gratitude, philanthropy, work ethic, optimism, courage and leadership help them stand out from others as they enter higher education, the workforce and their communities.

“You can make a difference by modeling these traits and always remember, too, to ask yourself: Are you surrounding [yourself] with people who also model these traits and who will be there to support you in the right ways?” she said during the morning BHS graduation.

The purpose of the bookmark-sized keepsake, she said, is to serve as a reminder of the Essential Eight, advising them to place the note in a journal, on their mirror, in their car or somewhere where they can refer back to it and make sure they are sticking to those traits.

“Your teachers have helped you to become college and career ready. The Essential Eight traits help you to be life ready,” she said.

The 2019 seniors in Bryan high schools established another tradition this year by walking the halls of each elementary school, Lonesia Bennett, a member of the BHS Class Council, said, during the reflections portion of the ceremony.

“It was awesome to be welcomed by hundreds of tiny people holding signs, high-fiving us and yelling for all the big people in their caps and gowns,” she said. “We could tell in every little face how very excited each of them was for us. However, little did they know, we were the blessed ones that day. If there are any tiny people in the audience today, all these big people sitting down below you in caps and gowns want each of you to dream big. Never give up, and never ever say you can’t do it. Academic success is possible for each of you.”

Batiste warned some of her classmates who wondered where the past four years had gone that life only gets faster.

“This is our moment to pause and really reflect on how these four years have changed us,” she said. “None of us are the same person we were as freshmen. We’ve grown into new people with new dreams and aspirations. Throughout the rest of your lives I hope we can all take a moment to stop and breathe and enjoy new friends or a dog, the weather, a flower, anything that can get you to slow down for just a moment.” No matter if the students are still friends with those they started high school with or if they found a new group of friends somewhere along the way, Paholek said, she hopes each of the 473 BHS graduates maintain those relationships while also reaching out and establishing more relationships in the future.

After thanking her family, the teachers she and her classmates had throughout their years in Bryan schools and the BHS administrators and staff, Paholek thanked her class for the memories she takes with her.

Despite mild to severe cases of senioritis, she said, each of them made it.

“We all found a way to the end of this year with enough to get us on to the next point in our lives,” she said. “Take some time to look back and find out what kept you going when you felt like the end would never come.”

As the graduates prepare for that next chapter, Ochoa repeated a Spanish phrase his dad used to tell him each morning, saying it means, “Life isn’t earned by sleeping. It’s earned by waking.”

“Well, it’s time to wake up and face the world with all we’ve got,” he said. “I am certain that each and every one of you has the potential to make something out of your life, so long as you put the work in. This diploma is proof of that. It wasn’t earned by sleeping. It was earned through hard work. A lesson, which I hope you all carry for the rest of your lives.”

No matter the ups and downs they may face in the future, he said, the class of 2019 will make it through it all.

“To my fellow graduates, it is only up from here,” BHS’s Bennett said. “The famous author Maya Angelou once said, ‘Still I rise.’ This symbolizes the class of 2019 as a whole. No matter what challenges we may face or what paths we take, we will rise to the occasion, period.”

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