HOUSTON – June 15, 2020 – Nearly 1,900 seniors celebrated graduating from Spring ISD in five special in-person ceremonies held at the district’s Planet Ford Stadium on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The events, scheduled in the mornings and evenings to take advantage of the cooler daylight hours, were specially designed to meet state requirements for large graduation gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year has been crazy, especially with the coronavirus,” said Carl Wunsche Sr. High School senior Kevon Gordon as he and his classmates lined up to enter the stadium. “So it’s a blessing to be here right now.”
With the graduates spread out at six-foot intervals across the field and guest tickets limited to ensure safe social distancing among parents and family members in the stands, the cheers and applause were a little quieter than in some years, but no less boisterous, and certainly no less joyful.
In addition to the graduates and their guests, campus faculty and staff were on hand to help with the ceremonies. For many, it was a reunion of sorts, giving them the chance to celebrate with students they hadn’t seen since Spring Break.
“I’m just so excited and so happy,” said Wunsche Assistant Principal Ayesha Ahmad, who was helping get students checked in and through security just outside the stadium. “It’s super awesome to see the kids. They’re so happy, and we’re so happy to see them. They’ve missed out on so much, and the fact that we’re able to do this for them is awesome. I get emotional thinking about it.”
Along with limiting the number of guests in attendance, the number of people on the graduation platform was also kept intentionally low. Trustees and district leaders took turns attending different ceremonies, and Board President Rhonda Newhouse addressed some of the graduating classes virtually, by pre-recorded video message.
“Today, COVID-19 has kept us apart physically, and it has saddened me, as I know it saddens many of you,” Newhouse said in her video message shown during the ceremonies she couldn’t attend. “And yet, we are not apart. We are together in spirit, because not even this virus can separate us on such a momentous occasion. Graduation is one of my favorite days because of the way it brings us together as a community to celebrate, and today I join with each of you in celebration.”
During his remarks, Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson acknowledged the difficulties and challenges posed by recent events, and encouraged graduates to reflect on how they had grown through those challenges.
“I can’t change our experience during the pandemic,” Watson said, “but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these challenges have strengthened and empowered you to grow and lead future generations.”
He also charged graduates to consider not just their own next steps, but also the role they will play in shaping the future.
“Make no mistake, our Spring ISD community and this world needs you to develop your voice, your gifts, your intelligence and depth of purpose, now more than ever,” Watson said. “We need you to be bold leaders – in ways large and small – to help guide our Spring ISD community, our nation, and the world into a future that lives out our Spring ISD core value of valuing diversity and treating everyone with dignity and respect.”
The message wasn’t lost on graduates, who spoke outside the ceremony of a wide range of plans for post-graduation life, from attending university to undertaking career-related apprenticeship programs to entering the military. Even as they acknowledged the uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, graduates also said they were hopeful and excited to be setting out on the next chapter of their lives.
“It’s a mix of emotions,” said Wunsche Salutatorian Klaryssa Lopez, who is heading to Texas A&M to study chemical engineering. “When I walked in this morning, I was tearing up, you know? I was sad that my senior year was ending, but at the same time happy and excited for everybody’s futures. We’ve come such a long way – we’ve made it through quarantine, I guess you could say – and I’m just very excited and happy for everyone. We did it! This is the moment that we’ve been waiting for, ever since we entered high school, and it’s just surreal.”
Lopez’s parents watched proudly from the stands, and after the ceremony her father, Louis Lopez, said how proud he and his wife are of their daughter and how happy they were to have the opportunity to see her graduate in person.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but we’ve been supporting her all the way,” he said. “We have always believed that, as a parent, the best thing you can give your child is an education.”
Campus principals echoed those sentiments, expressing gratitude at having the chance to hand out diplomas and celebrate at the open-air venue with the new graduates.
“The fact that we’re able to gather here today is truly a blessing,” said Spring High School principal Diaka Melendez during the school’s Friday evening ceremony. “I know it’s been a roller coaster of emotion this year, and planning for this graduation was quite the undertaking, but it’s been worth it to bring our Lion family together after so many months apart.”
During their Sunday morning ceremony, Spring Early College Academy Alphas gathered to celebrate their accomplishments. This year, 82 Early College students finished with both their diploma and Lone Star College Associate Degree, almost the entire senior class.
“I’m proud of these students here today,” said Spring Early College Principal Kristine Guidry. “They care deeply about our nation, and they represent what’s best about our community and our country. They represent what’s possible.”
Students were glad to see each other, and glad to have one more chance to celebrate together – even students who never thought they would find themselves missing school.
“Honestly, I didn’t care that much about school,” said Aria Razo of Spring High School, who plans to join the Air Force following graduation. “The only thing I really cared about was actually getting through, finishing.” Upon reflection, she talked about her welding class and teacher, Patrick Fuchs, who helped inspire a possible career path for Razo. “Spring High School was fun,” she said finally. “I’m going to miss it.”
Spring High School parent Anitra Jenkins was in the stands to cheer on her daughter, Ashanti Taylor, her youngest child and last to graduate.
“I think it’s nice that they did something for the Class of 2020, who’ve been through a lot,” said Jenkins, who also serves as the registrar at Marshall Elementary School. “It came out well. I know my daughter has been looking forward to this day for a long time. Virtual is fine, but the interaction is better.”
Dekaney High School Class President Michelle Romero, meanwhile, found a silver lining in the unusual circumstances.
“Although this isn’t how we planned our graduation to be,” she said, “this has not doomed us for the worst, but has prepared us for obstacles yet to come.”
During Sunday night’s Westfield High School graduation, Senior Class President Carrington Blair tried to sum up some of her own thoughts on the in-person graduation shortly before the close of her school’s ceremony.
“Standing in front of you all is so surreal, and it just proves that we can overcome any and everything,” Blair said, going on to thank all the parents, teachers, administrators and others who had helped them reach that spot, before leaving her fellow graduates with her final message and benediction as their classmate and class president.
“I pray for success over everyone’s life today. I pray over you guys’ future, career, businesses, ideas, travel, and all the new beginnings,” Blair said. “Everything and everyone has a purpose, and in due time you have to continue to laugh at confusion, live for the moments, and watch everything fall into place. This class of 2020 is and always will be the greatest of all time!”
For photos, videos and profiles of each school’s top graduates and more, visit the Class of 2020 Graduation website.