With the Spring ISD summer graduates gathered on the bleachers of the Dekaney High School gym, making their final preparations before Saturday's summer graduation ceremony, Spring High School Associate Principal Hannibal Trent had several last-minute instructions for the students, along with a few words of advice and encouragement.
"I want you to take a deep breath, enjoy the experience, take it in," Trent told the seniors as they finished adjusting their caps and gowns and prepared to line up for the processional into Dekaney's Star Theater, where parents, guardians, family and friends were already waiting. "This is your moment and you will shine, because you look good today. You worked hard. You worked harder than most people I know, and you made it."
Kendrick Parker, the only summer graduate this year from Carl Wunsche Sr. High School, knew exactly what Trent meant about hard work. Having committed to graduating early from high school, Parker had pushed hard to finish all his coursework and required testing in just over three years. Even after recently losing a beloved great-grandparent, he said he drew strength and inspiration from his family to make it through.
"This journey has been very tough," Parker said before the ceremony, "but I was glad that I was able to finish it."
Despite being the lone student from Wunsche, Parker certainly wasn't alone on Saturday. Approximately 80 Spring ISD students wrapped up their requirements over the summer to qualify for graduation, and many of them were in attendance Saturday morning at Dekaney to celebrate with family, friends and each other. The event served as a combined graduation ceremony for summer graduates from each of the district's high school campuses - Andy Dekaney High School, Carl Wunsche Sr. High School, Spring Early College Academy, Spring High School and Westfield High School.
For Spring High School senior Peyton Williams, it was an exciting day, even if things had played out differently than she had originally imagined.
"Although we didn't graduate with our friends from high school, we made new friends along the way to graduate in summer 2019," said Williams, who after graduation looks forward to starting her own photography business and eventually going to culinary school. From there, she says, the sky's the limit.
"I'm hoping to travel the world," Williams said. "I'm excited for it."
In his official remarks from the ceremony stage, Spring ISD Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson encouraged all the graduates to think just as big.
"Remember the lessons you've learned throughout your education," Watson said. "Build upon those lessons with new experiences, and share them with others. But most important, continue to grow and dream."
Spring ISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Newhouse also addressed students during the ceremony. She was joined on stage by fellow trustees Winford Adams Jr., Chris A. Bell, Justine Durant, Jana Gonzales and Dr. Deborah Jensen. Administrators from each high school campus helped lead the ceremony and congratulate students as they crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.
"When I look out into the audience at all of these beautiful faces I see sitting here in front of me, I see such potential and opportunity for each of you students to change the future for the better," Newhouse said. "Truly, it is in your hands."
Graduates' family and friends seemed to agree. For Williams' grandmother, Marsha Ross, the idea that her granddaughter might become a globetrotting photographer and professional chef didn't seem all that far-fetched.
"I think she will," Ross said after the ceremony, while her children and grandchildren posed nearby for celebratory photos. "When she puts her mind to something, she does it. I'm really proud of her."
Parker's parents, Kendrick Parker Sr. and Keturah Parker, were also out Saturday to celebrate with their son. Parker's mother said she was glad her son had chosen Wunsche, where he had found a good fit, and a good academic home.
"We're grateful for the teachers and counselors and principal - everyone that he interacted with over his years at Wunsche," she said. "They were really helpful, and they were there for him, very supportive, very understanding, and very demanding. They stayed on him to make sure that he got to completion, and he did."
She and her husband were also proud of their son for his contribution to Saturday's graduation ceremony. Parker was selected from among the summer graduates to offer the farewell message, and delivered one of the morning's best-received lines, followed by cheers and applause from both his fellow graduates and all those gathered to support them.
"As this ceremony comes to an end and we say our goodbyes, we are left to choose our own future path and decide how we will define ourselves," Parker said from the podium. "While our futures lie before us ready to unfold, one thing is certain - high school is over!"