Sometimes life requires pushing through “DIRT,” but Justin Smith encouraged the Bryan school district’s summer graduates to move beyond the blocks that might come their way.
Though not everyone understands football, he said, “I think everybody in the crowd can relate to breaking tackles in life to reach the end zone of success. I believe that’s exactly what our graduates have done today. Y’all have broken the tackles of life, and y’all have become successful today, and I want to congratulate each and every one of you.”
Tuesday’s commencement ceremony honored students who completed their graduation requirements over the summer with two dozen graduates — 16 from MC Harris, two from Bryan High School and six from Rudder High School — included in the program.
Smith, who serves as the school district’s community outreach officer, is a Bryan native and played football for Bryan High School and Tarleton State University.
During his speech, he told the audience about a district championship game in which Bryan’s running back broke 12 tackles on the final play to reach the end zone and give Bryan the win.
In life, he said, there are four tackles everyone must break at some point: disappointment, insecurity, ridicule and trouble — or DIRT.
“At some point in life, we’re going to have to get our knuckles dirty,” he said. “We’re going to have to get down and we’re going to have to get to work, and that’s just a part of it.
“To break the tackle of disappointment, just keep running. Life might throw some disappointments at you, but all you have to do is keep running.”
To combat insecurity, he encouraged the graduates to be positive and surround themselves with positive teammates, calling positivity contagious.
“Sometimes you’ll face ridicule; sometimes you’ll face naysayers or you can’t do this or you can’t do that,” Smith continued. “I’ll say in the great words of Maya Angelou, ‘Still, I rise.’ Just have that mindset: ‘Still, I rise,’ and keep going on.”
To break through trouble, he told the graduates to surround themselves with good people who will help them get to the level they are striving to reach.
“I found time and time again that if you love life, life will love you back,” Smith said. “Keep on running, and I promise you, you’ll continue to dance in the end zone of success. I’m so proud of y’all. Congratulations.”
Johnathan Maldonado, who graduated from MC Harris, said it meant a lot to receive his high school diploma Tuesday.
“From dropping out of school two times, I finally graduated,” he said. “… I went back to school and did it.”
Though there were times he wanted to give up his return to school, he said, he persevered.
Close friend and “second mom” Letty Castaneda was among Maldonado’s cheering section at the graduation at the district’s Performing Arts Center.
“All the rocky roads and the mountains he had to climb, we climbed them together, and we still do,” she said. “This was a goal that he had to accomplish.”
In addition to a diploma, each of the graduates received a bookmark of the Essential Eight characteristics Bryan Superintendent Christie Whitbeck implemented last year.
The eight characteristics of kindness, tolerance, gratitude, philanthropy, work ethic, optimism, courage and leadership will set the graduates apart from others as they go out into the world and set them up for more opportunities.
“These are eight attributes that we believe that if you follow these and you work to equip yourself to be strong in these areas, the world is your oyster,” Whitbeck said, noting they align with the Smith’s advice.
“Be reminded that when you are kind, when you are tolerant, when you give to others even when you have little to give, great things will happen for you,” she said. “We wish you the very best, and we want nothing but joy and happiness in your future.”