Wednesday marked a milestone for 56 graduates who received their diplomas from MC Harris High School in Bryan.

“This was a personal goal that I achieved and can truly say I’m proud of,” commencement speaker and 2019 graduate Johann Martinez said.

A lot of students might give up, she said, but she is proud of herself and her fellow graduates for persisting to reach Wednesday’s graduation ceremony at the Bryan Performing Arts Center on the Stephen F. Austin Middle School campus.

Of the 56 graduates, 40 have been accepted to or plan to attend a university, two-year college or a trade school, and many are doing so as first-generation college students.

Martinez told the audience her path to graduation did not start smoothly. She “hated” high school and was surprised, she said, to even make it to her sophomore year.

That is where she “hit the bottom,” she said, and failed.

That was the motivation she needed to move over to MC Harris and continue her high school education.

“I stared making progress and things started going well, and I passed the STAAR test and got a good job. I felt pretty good about things, but then things started going downhill again,” she said. “We lost our house.”

She stayed with her boyfriend, but it was not long before she was homeless again. Her boyfriend’s sister let them stay with her so they could focus on finishing school.

“My teachers helped me get back on track again, and slowly things got OK,” she said. “Going into my senior year, I lost all motivation again, but once more my teachers picked me back up, and now I’m graduating.”

She encouraged her fellow graduates to remember as they move onto the next phase of their life that they can achieve their goals, “even if we need a little push.”

For Martinez, she plans to attend Charles and Sue’s School of Hair Design.

Sabrina Pleasant called it a wonderful feeling to see her daughter Rokeshia Henderson walk across the stage and receive her high school diploma.

“She made it, and she did it for her baby,” Pleasant said. “She did it for her little girl.”

After high school, she said, Henderson plans to attend Blinn College and study to be a nursing assistant.

New graduate Kendall Kelley described Wednesday as “very, very” crazy, exciting, nervewracking and amazing, noting her journey was full of both happy times and struggles.

“I knew she could do it, so she just had to apply herself and be dedicated,” said Kelley’s mom, Erica. “Sometimes what happens is they lose faith in themselves, so it’s good to have the teachers and the staff that’s around them to kind of motivate them.”

Following the ceremony, Jessica Wyatt called it exciting to be a high school graduate, noting she moved to MC Harris after a stint at the Brazos County Juvenile Detention Center. After enrolling at MC Harris, though, she started working hard during the week and weekends to reach graduation.

“I advise everybody to graduate. It’s an amazing feeling,” she said. Wyatt plans to attend Blinn College to study nursing.

Wednesday was a big day for graduate Maria Elena Vasquez, she said.

“It’s a new chapter in my life, new things. The real world’s here,” Vasquez said.

She was struggling when she started high school and began giving up on herself when she found out about MC Harris.

“MC Harris changed my life. They pushed me to do things. They pushed me to look forward into life,” she said.

Vasquez said she now plans to attend Blinn College to become a pharmacy technician or another career in the medical field.

As the graduates continue on their journey, each received a bookmark of the Essential Eight character traits: kindness, tolerance, gratitude, philanthropy, work ethic, optimism, courage and leadership.

“These are the eight traits that we believe will help our students from all ages to be successful,” Bryan Superintendent Christie Whitbeck said.

As the graduates move forward with their dreams and goals, Whitbeck said, she hopes they will place the bookmark on a mirror, in their car or in a journal to remind themselves of those traits.

“As you learn and as you demonstrate these traits, you will set yourself apart to the boss, to your family, to everyone that you encounter,” she said. “You will be the one who makes the difference. You’ll be the one who shows the additional work ethic or the one who’s optimistic in a tough situation, the one who shows kindness even when it’s difficult.”

Adding her congratulations, she said, she hopes the Essential Eight can lead to a “wonderful and joyful” life for each graduate.

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