HOUSTON – June 3, 2019 – More than 2,200 seniors graduated from Spring ISD on Saturday and Sunday in ceremonies that drew thousands of parents, friends and relatives who cheered, cried and applauded as students crossed the stage.
“It’s very emotional,” said Latishuah Collins, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Proud Mom of Michael ‘Mikey’ Collins,” who graduated Sunday from Dekaney High School. “He’s an only child and my pride and joy.”
Joy and elation were both overwhelming sentiments for all the Spring ISD students who walked the stage in caps and gowns during ceremonies that included well-wishes from Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson, Spring ISD trustees and, for the Spring Early College Academy and Westfield graduations, U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
The 2019 graduation ceremonies included several special firsts. For Spring Early College Academy, the event was held for the first time at Lone Star College-North Harris, where many of the graduating seniors also earned their associate degrees.
“I think that the most important thing that we have learned over the last four years is self-advocating,” Early College valedictorian Autumn Smith told the more than 1,000 people who turned out for the school’s Saturday afternoon graduation ceremony. “Learning this lesson was a pivotal point in our young adult lives, where we learned accountability that will be vital in all our future endeavors.”
For Destin Johnson of Dekaney High School, accountability and duty were very much on his mind Sunday morning at the Berry Center as he prepared to cross the stage with more than 460 of his classmates.
“I’m joining the Army,” Johnson said, “and reporting to Fort Benning in a week.” He credited his high school JROTC experience for giving him the discipline and confidence he knows he will need in the service. “I knew I was going to graduate,” he said. “But this moment is surreal.”
Among those in the crowd Sunday cheering him on were not only his own extended family but members of the Dekaney family as well, who came out to shake the hands of every graduate from their namesake school.
“It truly is a privilege and honor to be here,” Josh Dekaney, the youngest son of Andy Dekaney, told the graduating seniors just moments before students lined up for the processional. “We are very proud of all of you and of all of your hard work.” Joining him was his older brother, Chris Dekaney, and mother (and widow of Andy Dekaney), Eileen Dekaney.
“We’ve been to every graduation since the school opened,” Eileen Dekaney said of her family. “When you have a school with your family’s name on it, it’s an honor.”
Board of Trustees President Rhonda Newhouse spoke at each of the five ceremonies for Spring ISD, including the first graduation ceremony for Carl Wunsche Sr. High School, which celebrated its first class of students – 363 in total – whose diplomas will bear the school’s name (until this year, students who took classes at Wunsche still received their diploma from their zoned campus).
Newhouse encouraged all of the students to be brave and thoughtful, even in the face of difficult circumstances. “I would encourage all of you to dream big, but also dream small,” she said. “Consider what you can contribute to any situation and do the right thing.”
The superintendent echoed those remarks, urging all of the graduates to remember that they can have a positive impact on someone’s life. “In order to have a strong effect, you must look beyond yourself, your individual wants and desires, to be of benefit to someone else,” Watson said. “Every interaction and conversation with someone, you should leave them better, more refreshed than they were before they came in contact with you.”
During the Wunsche ceremony, salutatorian Omar Hernandez thanked his parents and told the crowd, “As a first-generation college student, I am proud to say that my parents’ efforts in coming to a new country were worth it.”
For Spring ISD Police Officer Valerie Williams, keeping an eye on the Wunsche graduation was more than a work assignment.
“Some of these students I met when they first were at Wells Middle School in the sixth grade,” she said. “And it’s just an honor to see that they’re graduating today.”
Jual Leal, 18, had no doubts Sunday about the contributions he wants to make. The only son of deaf parents, Leal said he was a late talker and grew up bridging the gap between his deaf parents and the hearing world. “My first language was sign language,” said Leal, who also speaks Spanish.
The Dekaney graduate’s goal is to go to Lone Star College and become a certified sign language interpreter so he can help others. “I’m really nervous,” he said before lining up with his classmates. “At the same time, I’m excited. I’m still kind of in shock; it hasn’t hit me yet.”
Throughout the day, graduates alluded to their future – paired with a sense of nostalgia for their high school experience – in speeches and remarks to their classmates.
“While most of us will never walk the halls of Westfield High School again, we will still possess the memories of our numerous tribulations and they’ll serve as a reminder of why we are where we are,” said Westfield High School salutatorian Amari Asis West. “As a chapter closes, a new one will emerge and we will all come out stronger.”
Spring High School valedictorian Cindy Keeya gave a moving speech during her school’s ceremony, comparing herself and her fellow graduates to runners gathered at the starting line of a race.
“What do you have waiting for you at the finish line of this daunting race we are about to embark on?” Keeya asked the audience. “Is it a dream occupation, being able to give back to your family, being the first to take steps to better the situation you’ve been struggling through for years? Like the shot from the start gun, the moment you leave those doors the race will begin. Only you can decide how to finish it.”
Congresswoman Lee told graduates to do everything with a sense of dedication, with no fear of sacrifice or discomfort.
“When you go to that place of discomfort, your genius will turn it around,” she said. “You’ll either make a difference or find your comfortable space.”
For mom Tara Brown, Sunday’s graduation marked a significant step for her son Tavean Allen, who has faced so many medical challenges she wasn’t even sure he would be able to walk, much less walk across the Berry Center stage.
The 18-year-old suffers from Blount disease, a rare growth disorder that affects the bones of the lower legs. In 2016, he missed an entire year of school because of surgeries, and Brown said he overcame the odds to not only get better but to graduate on time. He hopes eventually to become an attorney.
“I really didn’t think he was going to be able to walk,” she said. “But he just works through the pain. I am so proud of him. Everyone is so proud of him.”
For photos, videos and profiles of each school’s top graduates and more, visit our Class of 2019 Graduation website.