More than 2,000 Spring ISD seniors and their families gathered May 26-28 outdoors at Planet Ford Stadium to celebrate the Class of 2022 graduation ceremonies for the district’s five high schools – Spring Early College Academy, Spring High School, Carl Wunsche Sr. High School, Dekaney High School, and Westfield High School.
Seated in chairs on the bright green football field, the rows of graduates in matching gowns and colorfully decorated graduation caps were the stars of the show, with parents and friends cheering them on from the stands. At each of the five ceremonies – held in the early mornings and evenings to avoid the midday heat – district administrators, school board members and special guests praised the members of Spring ISD’s Class of 2022, congratulating them on the obstacles they had overcome, including a pandemic that arrived in the middle of their sophomore year.
“Change and unpredictability have been the hallmarks of your high school days,” Superintendent Dr. Lupita Hinojosa told the graduates near the end of one ceremony. “But – and here’s the very important part – you made it through! What an incredible and inspiring thing you have done. You have worked hard, you showed up, you kept up, and you made it to the finish line.”
Spring ISD Board of Trustees President Justine Durant also addressed the graduating classes, commenting on how quickly time often passes, especially for the many parents and guardians in the stands, amazed at how quickly their children had grown into young adults. She also remarked on the unique path this year’s graduates had traveled – filled with unexpected challenges – while at the same time reminding them to remain grateful for all the blessings and support in their lives.
“Your path to graduation has been unusual. You’ve overcome a lot – a pandemic, an insane winter storm, along with your own personal hurdles,” Durant said. “But don’t forget to take a moment and appreciate the journey, and take the time to thank all of the people who got you here.”
Spring Early College Academy
Festivities began with Spring Early College Academy’s ceremony at 8 a.m. on Thursday, where approximately 100 seniors graduated, many of whom were also celebrating earning their associate degree from Lone Star College-North Harris.
One of those seniors was Sephora Pham, who, thanks to the school’s accelerated coursework and integration with Lone Star College’s curriculum, was able to graduate on Thursday with an associate degree already in hand, giving her a big head start on the five-year fast-track master’s program she will be entering at Sam Houston State University in the fall.
“I’ll graduate in three years with my master’s degree in accounting, and after that I’m planning on going to law school,” said Pham, whose detailed plans also include becoming a Certified Public Accountant and, eventually, a tax attorney running her own business.
“I’ve had this plan since I was 14,” said Pham, smiling, “and this was truly the first step into that plan.”
Pham’s mother has now seen two of her four children graduate from Spring Early College Academy, with a third about to begin there as a freshman. She said she was proud of her daughter and all of this year’s graduates, and also added her admiration for campus staff and administrators attending the ceremony.
“You know who really impressed me? Dr. Hinojosa,” Debra Pham said of the superintendent, who warmly greeted each graduate with a handshake or a hug as they returned to the field to take their seat after receiving their diploma. “To me that says a lot about her character, and that she truly cares for the kids. I thought that was so sweet.”
Students spoke of overcoming a range of challenges during the course of the pandemic, from isolation, loneliness and depression, to struggles staying motivated and on-task during remote classes.
“I’d say my biggest challenge over the pandemic was online learning,” said Casey Calloway, who credited faculty and fellow students at the tight-knit school for all their support. “I made it with the help of everyone around me, and now I’m walking!”
Spring Early College Academy Principal Kristine Guidry, in her congratulatory remarks during the ceremony, also credited this year’s graduating class with rising successfully to meet the challenges.
“Class of 2022 Alphas, you made a commitment four years ago to attend Spring Early College Academy, and you knew it would require time, effort and resilience to complete this program,” Guidry said. “Today, all of your hard work and commitment has paid off as you celebrate your graduation from high school!”
Spring High School
The district’s largest graduating class – numbering some 650 students – celebrated the end of their high school career at a 7 p.m. ceremony on Thursday.
Spring High School Principal Pablo Resendiz reflected on his first year leading the campus, where he says the Class of 2022 embraced him coming in during the middle of the school year.
“I must confess, as a school leader this year, hope has been the vehicle driving me each day,” Resendiz said. “That hope, along with your smiling faces and the belief that my first graduating class as a high school principal will go off and do amazing things to impact the world. Class of 2022, you are all conquerors filled with hope and belief.”
Spring High School’s Class of 2022 Valedictorian Grace Wesley led a powerful speech, where she encouraged her classmates to stay grounded in their core beliefs while keeping a positive self-perception, despite the possible challenges of the future.
“As we close this chapter, a clean start awaits,” Wesley told her classmates. “We get to start afresh, live boldly and confidently knowing that we are special. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. So next time you are feeling defeated, remember you are special!”
Spring High School senior Jason Theodore, who had family from as far away as St. Lucia celebrating with him on Thursday, said the difficult times have also made him realize how fortunate he has been.
“It’s been a lot, I’m not going to lie,” Theodore said, adding he plans to attend University of Houston in the fall to major in Engineering. “There have been times when you want to stop but you realize you can’t stop – you work here so you can have a better future. The harder you work now, the easier it is in your future.”
Laura Rodriguez was in attendance with a large crowd of family members to see her nephew, John Alejandro Rodriguez, cross the stage and begin his new chapter in the U.S. Marine Corps.
“He is our second nephew to graduate, and it’s a big accomplishment. It means a lot to us,” she said. “I think he has a lot of mixed emotions today, but he knows we’re proud of him and he’s proud of himself and what he’s accomplished.
Carl Wunsche Sr. High School
Carl Wunsche Sr. High School, which along with Spring Early College Academy serves as one of Spring ISD’s two secondary schools of choice, saw the graduation of more than 320 seniors from its in-depth career pathway programs during an 8 a.m. ceremony on Friday.
“I’m just excited about this time for our students and our families,” said Wunsche Principal Dr. Alfred James shortly before the ceremony began. Over the pandemic, James and other campus staff reached out directly to students in danger of not graduating, encouraging them and making sure they had the support needed to earn their diploma.
“I understand it’s been challenging for many of our students, but they’ve been extremely resilient,” James said. “It’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but we have 100% of our seniors graduating today, and so I’m proud of them.”
Graduating senior Marcos Noel Saracay said that the extra support from teachers and administrators, together with the camaraderie and encouragement of friends, helped him when he was struggling.
“I had a hard time my junior year, actually, and I had a lot of staff members and friends help me out with everything,” Saracay said as he and his classmates got ready to process into the stadium. “My friends played a big part in my graduation. If it wasn’t for friends and family, I wouldn’t be here, honestly.”
Wunsche Salutatorian Valerie Cosmi – celebrating and taking pictures with her family after the ceremony had ended – echoed that sentiment, saying her teachers had helped her not only finish strong at Wunsche, but also explore her academic interests and help her chart her course after graduation.
“All of the teachers at Carl Wunsche Sr. High School are amazing,” said Cosmi, a medical pathway graduate who is headed to UT-Austin this fall to study psychology. “They truly do care about their students. It’s incredible.”
Wunsche Valedictorian Catherine Castille, meanwhile, expressed her amazement at following in the footsteps of her own grandmother, who 61 years ago graduated as the valedictorian of what is now Carl Wunsche Sr. High School.
“Life doesn’t start because you’re ready,” she said during her address to her fellow graduates, telling them to have faith and persevere even when traveling into an unknown and uncertain future.
CTE Academy Specialist Michael Buchanek, who shared the task of reading out the graduates’ names for the presentation of diplomas during the ceremony, said faculty at the school were grateful to have students back on campus this year, and to see students begin to move forward after the difficulties and challenges of the past few years.
“It was great this year to be able to see the students and interact with them more, to build those relationships that seemed to be missing during the pandemic,” Buchanek said. “It just made this graduation that much more fun and exciting.”
Cheering from the stands for her daughter Katelyn, proud mom Kimberly Journet summed up the overall mood of the morning.
“It’s totally exciting,” Journet said. “It’s exhilarating!”
Dekaney High School
Approximately 375 graduates from Andy Dekaney High School gathered with their families for their school’s graduation ceremony, held at 7 p.m. on Friday. Dekaney Principal Alonzo Reynolds III kicked off the celebration with words of encouragement as graduates prepared to embark on the next steps in their lives.
“Today is a beginning, not an ending,” Reynolds said. “You have discovered within yourselves a strength and dedication you may never have suspected was yours. You now have every tool you need to achieve each goal you set.”
U.S Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee was a special guest at the Dekaney ceremony, where, in addition to congratulating seniors as they received their diplomas, she also addressed the graduating class directly.
“I sense a little joy in this place – I sense a little happiness in this place – I sense some achievement in this place – I sense some achievers in this place!” Jackson Lee told the graduates as she began her remarks – eliciting loud cheers from the Dekaney grads.
“You have climbed mountains, you have traveled rivers, and you have stood strong in the midst of a storm,” the congresswoman said. “So as you take this graduation and diploma, let no one diminish how important this step is in your life. But with this step comes power, and responsibility.”
She told the graduates that they were now well-equipped to be change agents for good in the world, a sentiment that was echoed later in remarks by Dekaney Valedictorian Teon Golden.
“All of you are special in your own way. Never stop believing in yourself, because you have the brains, creativity, and uniqueness that the world has never seen before,” Golden said during his speech. “Graduating high school is a huge accomplishment, but let’s not stop here. I challenge you to continue on in the world and accomplish even greater things.”
As the parking lot emptied out after the Dekaney ceremony, Dekaney High School Director of Bands Chase Giddings reflected on watching so many of his students cross the stage from his vantage point as one of the name readers during the ceremony.
“Some of the kids that I see up there, I’ve known since the sixth grade,” Giddings said. “Seeing them grow up, that never gets old. It’s always remarkable.”
Westfield High School
Rounding out the Spring ISD Class of 2022 graduation festivities at Planet Ford Stadium was Westfield High School, with a ceremony at 8 a.m. on Saturday, with approximately 600 seniors graduating.
Before the start of the ceremony, Westfield Student Council President Michaela Rutledge was gathered with her fellow graduates inside the Randall Reed Center, where graduates made last-minute preparations, chatted with their classmates, and arranged themselves in order for the entrance procession. After the disruptions of COVID-19, one of Rutledge’s priorities as Student Council President has been supporting students after everyone returned to in-person learning last fall.
“With everybody coming back to campus this year, we’ve been trying to build up that energy and that determination and that hard work,” Rutledge said. “With Student Council, that was our main goal this year, was to try to bring everything together and make sure we all finish this year out great.”
That commitment to hard work and mutual support and encouragement was praised by Westfield Principal Laura Hunter when she spoke to the graduates near the start of the ceremony.
“Today we celebrate the culmination of years of hard work,” Hunter said during her remarks. “Graduates, you have faced many challenges the last few years, but you have overcome each one to arrive at this place and time. High School graduation is the start of a journey that will bring new challenges and new opportunities. Always remember that you have the knowledge, strength and determination to achieve all your goals.”
Alexandra Smith, from the office of U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, attended Westfield’s graduation on the congresswoman’s behalf to celebrate and recognize the graduates. During the ceremony, Smith presented special certificates to students including Valedictorian Esgar Ortiz Flores and Salutatorian Estefania Yepiz Medina.
While acknowledging that many of his fellow members of the Class of 2022 are headed off to impressive-sounding adventures, Flores took the occasion of his valedictory speech to offer his fellow graduates an impassioned call to consider what really mattered to them, and not to live their lives pursuing someone else’s idea of success.
“I am constantly being told that I have the potential to do great things, and I know that I do, but I want to be great in my own way,” said Flores, explaining to his classmates why, rather than heading off to an elite, big-name college or university, he had chosen instead to enroll locally in a special program at Lone Star College that will allow him to train for and earn his bachelor’s degree in nursing.
“Too many people chase after idealized images of what they believe will make them happy in this life – everyone wants big homes, expensive cars, and vast amounts of money, but is it all really necessary?” Flores asked. “We cannot allow ourselves to become trapped by the pursuit of luxury. Instead, we should spend our lives pursuing happiness through self-healing, interpersonal relationships, and the simplistic comforts of life. Recognize that your time on Earth is limited, and it would be a waste to devote your entire existence to chasing after things that will be meaningless once you’re gone.”
As the ceremony came to a close, the graduates marched one last time to “Pomp and Circumstance” as they exited the stadium. While other parents left the stands to meet up with their new grads outside, John Green lingered a few moments at his seat, reflecting on the day and on seeing his oldest child walk the stage. Green’s daughter, Mya, graduated third in her class and is headed away this fall, on a full-ride to Emory University in Atlanta.
“Seeing your first child graduate, it’s quite a feeling, and beautiful,” Green said, “and I’m just sitting here, soaking it up, you know?”
A Moment of Remembrance
While the majority of each ceremony commemorated the joyous occasion of high school graduation, each graduation event also included a commemoration of those affected by the school shooting earlier in the week in Uvalde, Texas.
“Along with all of you, we are shocked and saddened by the events that unfolded this week at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas,” Hinojosa said at the opening of the ceremonies, before inviting all those present to join together in a moment of silence. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this senseless shooting and their families, as well as with all of our other fellow Texans in the community of Uvalde.”
For photos, graduation videos, profiles of each Spring ISD high school’s top graduates and more, visit the Class of 2022 Graduation website.