Nearly 2,000 seniors celebrated their Spring ISD graduation 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 hours, marked the achievements of the Class of 2021, whose junior and senior years were marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is a saying my husband uses all the time with his students and family: ‘Tough times don’t last, tough people do,’” said Spring Early College Academy Principal Kristine Guidry during the school’s commencement ceremony on Friday. “You are definitely a tough, resilient group, and despite all that has happened over the last four years and through all of the challenges, you have found a way to not only overcome but to succeed and to excel.”
Guidry shared with the audience how the Class of 2021 will walk away as one of the strongest classes in the history of Spring Early College Academy, earning an impressive 86 associate degrees and over 5,500 collective college hours.
Senior Eduardo Ruelas agreed, as he reflected after the graduation ceremony on his time spent on the campus of Lone Star College-North Harris. “It was insane,” he said. “We started off with 5-inch binders and strict classes in the beginning, but it started getting easier as we went on and got more used to it. We pretty much converted from middle school to college and that was a really big step, but we took it.”
With COVID-19 conditions improving in the region and fewer restrictions in place on in-person gatherings, attendance was up from last year’s ceremonies, although some still opted to watch the 2021 Spring ISD virtual graduation ceremonies, which premiered on the district’s YouTube channel on June 7. The ceremonies at Planet Ford Stadium, which were also live streamed on the district’s website, included a selection of some of the recorded speeches used in the virtual ceremonies, along with others delivered live at the stadium. Board President Rhonda Newhouse spoke to the unique nature of the moment, acknowledging the difficulties of the past year as well as the signs of hope now emerging.
“If we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s to not take each other for granted,” Newhouse said. She went on to remind graduates to be grateful for those who had supported them, both in their education and in life.
“Class of 2021, you did it, and you deserve all the cheers and accolades that will be showered on you today. But you didn’t do this by yourself. For the past 18 years, you have had a host of parents, grandparents, extended family, teachers and close friends holding you up and cheering you on through thick and thin,” Newhouse said. “When you get home and start showing off your diploma, make sure that you give all the supporters you have here and those in other places a big hug.”
During his live remarks, Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson also acknowledged the challenges posed by the pandemic and encouraged graduates to stay strong and keep moving forward.
“Students, as you pursue your goals, whether it is college, a career, the military or whatever else you have imagined, remember the lessons you learned throughout your education,” Watson said. “Build upon those lessons with new experiences. Share them with others and continue to dream and grow.”
Westfield High School Class of 2021 valedictorian Da’Vion Tatum moved the audience on Friday evening during his school’s commencement ceremony, where he called on his classmates to continue to persevere. “As we enter this new chapter of our lives, I encourage you to remember your own brilliance and use it to help shed some light in the dark areas of our world,” he said. “You know society will sometimes make you believe that there is a limit to your success or a ceiling to your aspirations, but there isn’t. Mae Jemison once said – and it’s a quote I live by daily – ‘Never be limited by other people’s limited imagination.’ Don’t be discouraged by those who doubt your ability, but be encouraged by those who will be helped through your actions.”
Tatum closed his speech with a special tribute to his mother, who along with other family members was there to cheer him on from the bleachers.
“It’s surreal, it really is, but it’s amazing, and I’m just super proud of him,” said Cheryl Tatum after the ceremony, adding that one of the things she was most proud of was her son’s ongoing work – through peer mentoring, tutoring and other activities – to encourage and support others.
“It’s all about just knowing that it’s bigger than him, and knowing that, at the end of the day, whatever you do, it’s always about others,” she said. “That’s the purpose that we’re all put here for, is to help other people, so he knows that that’s the goal. That’s what he’s always done, and what he’ll continue to do. I just have no doubt that he’s going to do remarkable things.”
After a year spent dealing with COVID-19 restrictions and adapting to online classes – which some seniors opted to stay in throughout the 2020-21 school year – many admitted they were breathing a sigh of relief.
“I feel like I’m just ready to be done,” said Dekaney High School graduate Shamia McCoy, who moved to the Houston area from New Orleans around the time she started high school. Before Dekaney’s Saturday morning graduation ceremony, she took a few minutes to pose for pictures with her grandmother, who had traveled in for the special occasion.
“I’m a proud grandma. I came from New Orleans yesterday to come to her graduation,” said Denedra McCoy. “We were Katrina victims, so it’s been a struggle for us, from Katrina to now, but I’m in good spirits to see her walk across that stage. I thank God that I’m 56 and able to see my first grandbaby walk down the stage. I thank God that I’m still living to see it.”
Later, during Dekaney’s graduation ceremony, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee gave a rousing speech where she reflected on the graduates’ high calling to be “tree shakers and mountain climbers,” challenging the status quo and working on behalf of positive change in the world.
“You’ve got to be resilient,” said Jackson Lee, who flew back to Houston from Washington just in time to attend the early morning ceremony, and to congratulate the seniors on the many hurdles they had overcome during their time in school – including graduating during a once-in-a-century pandemic.
“You won’t look back, you won’t give up, you won’t give in, and you won’t give out, and that’s why you’re the Class of 2021,” she told the graduates.
Her sentiments were echoed on Saturday evening at Carl Wunsche Sr. High School’s commencement, which had to be delayed an hour due to heavy storms passing through the region. Students and guests waited until the rain passed before the ceremony began, just before 9 p.m., when Wunsche Principal Dr. Alfred James welcomed the graduates and their families.
“The fact that we’re able to gather today is truly a blessing,” said James, going on to list a few of the events that had interrupted the normal flow of school and life over the previous four years – from Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda, to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Texas Freeze of February 2021. Through it all, James said the graduates had shown their strength and determination.
“Despite those challenges, you have been resilient,” James said. “You have not only been outstanding students, but also many of you have been teachers, helping your younger siblings – and in some cases assisting your parents – navigate the remote learning environment. This is highly commendable, and you deserve much respect, praise and admiration.”
During Sunday evening’s Spring High School graduation, Salutatorian Armando Marquez, in his message to his fellow graduates, looked back in time and forward in turns, acknowledging the strange year just past while also pointing ahead, hopefully and optimistically, to the future.
“I’m incredibly proud of what you’ve all done. This class has had to deal with so much for the past 14 months or so, since back when the school closed for the first time in March 2020,” Marquez said. “Yet here we are, at the finish line, and it feels pretty good to have finally arrived, and prepare for the next phase of our lives.”
Before he closed, Marquez left his classmates with a firm-but-gentle call to action, as well as a few final words of encouragement.
“‘Know who you are, be who you are, love who you are.’ Don’t let anyone ever tell you what you can and can’t do, especially not now, not at the point where you finally get to be the person you want to be,” he said. “Whatever the next part of your life looks like, you need to be at your best, but I have full confidence that you all will do great things in the future.”
For photos, videos and profiles of each school’s top graduates and more, visit the Class of 2021 Graduation website.