Thousands of Spring ISD parents and family members gathered at the district’s Planet Ford Stadium June 1-3 to cheer on the more than 2,000 graduates of the district’s six high schools – Spring Early College Academy, Dekaney High School, Carl Wunsche Sr. High School, Westfield High School, Spring High School, and Spring ISD’s newest secondary school of choice, Momentum High School.
Graced with mostly sunny skies and the warmth of early summer, the ceremonies brought together graduates, their teachers and other campus staff, as well as family and friends all wishing the best to the members of the Class of 2023, who were freshmen in high school at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic but rose to the challenge to cross the stage during this weekend’s ceremonies.
Superintendent Dr. Lupita Hinojosa told the assembled graduates and their families what an honor it was for her and other district staff, teachers and administrators to be with graduates celebrating such a momentous occasion and such an important turning point in their lives.
“This is the culmination of 12 years of hard work and dedication, and I am so proud of each and every single one of you,” Hinojosa said. “I don’t have to tell you all that your time in high school has been a whirlwind, to say the least. You’ve worked hard to get here – and, if I’m being honest, the hard work has only begun. But that’s what life is all about – dedication and perseverance to get you to your goals.”
Board of Trustees President Justine Durant also congratulated the graduates on their accomplishment, acknowledging the challenges of the past few years while also celebrating the successes of the Class of 2023.
“It is an honor to stand before you today as we celebrate the culmination of your high school journey,” Durant said. “As you reflect on the past four years, we can all agree that it has been a ride filled with ups and downs, but you made it through! You have all faced challenges and obstacles along the way, but you persevered.”
Representatives from the office of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee also attended select ceremonies to present special certificates to valedictorians and salutatorians, and to congratulate members of the Class of 2023 on behalf of the congresswoman.
Momentum High School
The district kicked off this year’s ceremonies with the first end-of-year graduation for one of Spring ISD’s newest programs, Momentum High School, where students have the ability to accelerate their learning and make up coursework quickly through a blend of flexible in-person and online learning, including a flexible school day that allows students to work or take care of family, and attend classes on a schedule that fits their needs, including in the evening.
Momentum’s Thursday afternoon ceremony included more than 70 students, all of whom completed their requirements to earn their diploma during the past academic year.
Prior to this year, students completing graduation requirements at the Spring ISD Achieving Success Alternative Program (ASAP) – Momentum’s forerunner – did not have their own graduation ceremony, but with the official launch this year of Momentum as a separate high school program, students who finished their requirements over the course of the 2022-23 school year had the opportunity to celebrate their success together at Planet Ford Stadium for the first time.
“We all have faced some form of adversity or challenge throughout our school careers; however, we overcame and made it to this very day that we have been working towards,” Momentum senior Christopher James Fuchs-Brewster told the crowd. “Despite our differences, we have shown resilience and determination to succeed. Whether you came to Momentum to finish school early or returned to earn your diploma, you have achieved something special and should be proud.”
Graduate Nadia Theodore says although it took a lot for her to get to this very day, it was worth every moment.
“All of the hard work – even middle school – every school year was hard and took a lot to get through, but I’m happy,” Theodore said.
The 18-year-old says she came up through the district, formerly attending both Hirsch and Northgate Crossing elementary schools, Twin Creeks Middle School and Spring High School, before deciding to transfer to Momentum High as a better fit. After graduation, Theodore says she plans on becoming a mental health technician.
“This moment means a new step and journey for me. I’m excited,” Theodore said.
Brynn White, another Momentum graduate, said getting to graduation day was a very long journey for her, but she made it.
“I worked as hard as I could in school, and there were a lot of downhills. But you know what? With every downhill comes an uphill,” said White. “I put a lot into getting here, and I’m very proud today.”
White says she made the personal decision to transfer from Spring High School to Momentum High because it proved to be easier and gave her the opportunity to graduate early. Despite being a better fit for her, White advises future Momentum students to work hard and not take the alternative path towards graduation for granted.
“Take your time and put work into what you’re doing,” said White. “Don’t rush through it because it’s worth it.”
Spring Early College Academy
About 100 graduates from Spring Early College Academy – whose students attend classes on the campus of Lone Star College-North Harris and have the ability to earn both their high school diploma and a Lone Star College associate degree – gathered with family, friends and faculty for a 7 p.m. ceremony on Thursday evening.
Spring Early College Academy Principal Kristine Guidry – who began her tenure as principal in the fall of 2019, just as this year’s graduates were arriving as freshmen – reflected on the memory of having that first year interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the long recovery that followed.
“Sometimes it’s important to remember that there is only so much that we can actually control,” Guidry told the graduates. “It has taken us all three years and a whole lot of emotions and experiences to get here today. I want to tell you that it has been an honor, a challenge and an experience I will never forget. This class has hung in there every step of the way. You have supported each other, and you have learned so much about yourselves through this time.”
Valedictorian Sara Mai spoke on behalf of her classmates when she offered words of thanks and gratitude to all the parents, administrators, teachers, staff, and friends whose support had helped graduates reach this milestone, and Mai offered a heartfelt note of personal thanks to her parents and brother in her family’s native Vietnamese language.
Mai also congratulated her fellow graduates on rising to the challenges both of the pandemic and of the rigorous and demanding Early College program.
“Class of 2023, the past four years have been a rollercoaster ride. We stumbled, struggled, and grew, and we should be proud of ourselves,” Mai said. “Our class has shown incredible resilience. We faced challenges that traditional high schoolers do not have to face. As Early College students, we learned to balance a heavy college workload with personal responsibilities and we had to adapt to the unique learning environment with other college students. Despite these obstacles, we persevered and found a way to make it work.”
Graduating senior Lisa Chou said she was looking forward to being college rivals with her older brother, Cody, who graduated from Spring Early College Academy in 2021 and now attends Harvard University. Following her own graduation this year, Chou is headed to Yale University.
“I actually never thought I would get into Yale or any Ivy League,” Chou said. “I always thought Ivy League was way out of my league.”
Chou and her brother – who are the first in their family to attend college and who both grew up using sign language at home with their parents, who are deaf – both participated in Spring ISD’s partnership with the EMERGE Fellowship, a college-access program that aims to connect high-potential students from underserved communities with opportunities and scholarships to attend top colleges across the country.
“EMERGE really helped me,” Chou said, “so I’m really thankful that Spring Early College was able to give that opportunity to me and allow me to get out of my box and out of my comfort zone, to share my passion, and be able to be accepted to Yale.”
There were many proud parents and family members at the ceremony, including Shanna Scott, whose daughter Kristin Botley is currently planning to head this fall to Smith College in Massachusetts on a pre-med track with a minor in psychology.
Scott was beaming after the conclusion of the school’s Thursday evening ceremony and said her daughter’s time at Spring Early College Academy had allowed her to blossom and equipped her with everything she would need to make the most of college, even if it does mean moving far from home.
“A part of me wanted her to stay close to home, but I also want her to venture out and see what the world has to offer,” Scott said, “so I’m excited to see what that looks like for her.”
Dekaney High School
Friday’s festivities kicked off bright and early, with about 440 graduating seniors from Dekaney High School arriving well ahead of their 8 a.m. ceremony. Iejah Lee was lined up with fellow classmates waiting to enter the stadium facility, and reflected on how his experiences, particularly in Navy JROTC and theater – both of which he pursued all through high school – had given him greater degrees of discipline, maturity, and self-knowledge.
“It took JROTC and it took theater,” Lee said. “JROTC gave me a level of respect for my peers and it gave me discipline so I can focus on what I’m trying to achieve.”
Meanwhile, Lee credited his theater teacher, Valerie Mata, for helping him develop his creative gifts, relate to others, and express himself with greater ease.
“I wouldn’t be as confident as I am if it wasn’t for Ms. Mata,” said Lee, who is headed to Texas Southern University, where he plans to study computer arts and graphic design, but also hopes to continue developing the creative interests nurtured by teachers like Mata.
Jasmine Mitchell, who is also headed to Texas Southern, said she was glad to be done with high school and was looking forward to moving on, but also admitted that a part of her would miss the regularity and structured nature of her high school days.
“I’ll miss the stability and structure, because once you go off to college it’ll be different, you won’t be doing the same things every day,” Mitchell said. “It’s a new beginning for all of us.”
Dekaney Principal Alonzo Reynolds III, in his speech during the ceremony, took the opportunity to read to the graduates from Edgar Albert Guest’s poem “See It Through,” which Reynolds said was a perfect encapsulation of the can-do spirit of this year’s graduating seniors.
Dekaney Valedictorian Cali Johnson told classmates not to fear the future, but to embrace the accomplishment of graduation and look forward with confidence.
“We should take in this moment, this ceremony, this day, and cherish it,” Johnson said. “Today is a commemoration of all we’ve strived for and the hard work we’ve put in to get here. We’ve yearned for this moment, we’ve earned this moment, and we’ve definitely earned this diploma. Today is our day.”
Johnson, together with Salutatorian A’myri Phillips, also made history as the first African American female valedictorian and salutatorian to graduate from Dekaney.
Families endured the heat of the outdoor seating to make sure they got to see their graduates cross the stage and cheer them on, but once the ceremony was over, many enjoyed a moment of relief under the shade of the bleachers, including proud grandmother Ruby Petties.
“Even though it’s hot, it’s a good day today,” said Petties, whose family members all wore specially made T-shirts celebrating her granddaughter, Andrea Petties, who graduated with honors and now plans to pursue a culinary arts degree and train as a pastry chef.
Petties said she was especially proud to watch her granddaughter cross the stage when reflecting on the challenges faced by the Class of 2023, including the pandemic’s massive disruption to both their freshman and sophomore years.
Daniel Aguirre, a graduating senior from Dekaney’s Auto Tech program, was hanging out after the ceremony talking with family members, fellow students, and Dekaney Auto Tech instructor David Almanzan. Aguirre said he’d also come a long way in four years.
“At first, I didn’t know anything about automotive, I didn’t even know how to change the oil, or a tire,” Aguirre said. Now, after four years of experience in the school’s auto shop, Aguirre has trained on modern equipment and technology, has earned his Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification, and has a clear idea of how to keep building both his skills and his career in the industry.
Best of all, he’s already got a job lined up at a performance shop, and has been accepted into the Automotive Technology program at San Jacinto College.
“I tell them, ‘I don’t care about cars; I care about challenges,’” instructor Almanzan said. “And every day we’re going to see challenges no matter what or where you’re at, so I teach them how to overcome challenges. It’s a rewarding feeling at the end of the day.”
Carl Wunsche Sr. High School
A total of 342 graduating seniors from Carl Wunsche Sr. High School held their ceremony at 7 p.m. on Friday, enjoying some relief from the midday heat.
The school of choice is designed around three towers – professional, technology and medical – in which academics are integrated with career exploration and college preparation, and students have the ability to graduate with a host of industry certifications specific to their chosen career pathways.
Standing proud just before walking the field, Nelson Lazo smiled brightly as he showed off his cap decorated with the American and El Salvadorian flags, and photos of four family members who he says didn’t have the opportunity to see him cross the stage as the first person in his family to graduate from high school — and attend college.
“My entire family migrated from El Salvador during the ’70s and ’80s,” Lazo said. “One of the photos is of my grandfather, who was blind the last 40 years of his life. He unfortunately could not see my dad grow up, and he used to feel me and say, ‘This is a small bull right here!’”
Graduating from Carl Wunsche Sr. High School means creating a new pathway for family generations to come behind Lazo, while acknowledging those who set in motion his current success. He plans on starting college at Lone Star College-North Harris, followed by law school in hopes of becoming a lawyer – another first in his entire family.
“My great aunt was so loving and wanted to be here on this day,” Lazo said. “She would tell my grandmother, ‘When Nelson is graduating, I want to be there. I want to see him from the risers!’ She died a year ago.”
During the Class of 2023’s ceremony, Wunsche Valedictorian Chris Estrada delivered a powerful speech touching on growing up Mexican American in an economically disadvantaged household. While speaking to his classmates, Estrada shared his love for education and path toward self discovery.
“Statistically, I shouldn’t be graduating today, let alone be valedictorian. Statistically, I shouldn’t be going to college. But here I am, graduating as valedictorian and continuing my education at Stanford,” Estrada said.
As the reading of names of graduates wrapped, a photo of Mark Christian Lang displayed across the field’s big screen in memory of the Wunsche Sr. High School student, who passed away in March. To accept his honorary diploma, both of Lang’s parents walked the stage to a standing ovation from the crowd during a heartfelt tribute.
For Chambers Rogers, walking the stage has a deeper meaning as a cancer survivor. At the age of 9, the graduating senior was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma leukemia, which required multiple surgeries and years spent away from the classroom.
“It was a very rough journey,” Rogers explained. “When I went to middle school, I had to be homeschooled for all three years. I went into remission around the age of 13. When I got to high school, my hair started to grow back, I started making more friends and it was a better experience for me. I could finally be around more people and make connections.”
Although Rogers says the cancer diagnosis was really tough as a child, it was a learning experience.
“I’ve accomplished so much,” Rogers said. “It’s very few people who went through what I went through that is graduating today, so I’m very grateful and I thank God for everything.”
Now, she looks forward to attending Houston Christian University in hopes of becoming a registered nurse.
“I want to graduate with my bachelor’s degree in nursing and then transfer to MD Anderson [Cancer Center] because that’s where I was treated and I want to start as a phlebotomist, then work my way up to becoming an oncology nurse,” Rogers said.
Westfield High School
Westfield High School launched day three of the graduation events with its 8 a.m. ceremony on Saturday, where about 540 graduating seniors were cheered on from the stands by family and friends.
Gathering at the Randall Reed Center to get checked in and lined up ahead of the ceremony, graduates reflected on the people who had inspired and supported them over the years, including those who had encouraged them in their education.
Westfield graduate Edgar Guerra had a special memento hanging from his graduation cap, an extra tassel and a small pendant containing a picture of his older brother, who passed away in 2021.
“We were six years apart, but we were still buddies – we used to always tell each other everything and always keep each other out of trouble,” Guerra said. “He was my big bro. He’s no longer here, but he would have wanted me to graduate.”
Guerra said that losing his brother, combined with the disruptions to schooling and other activities caused by the pandemic, had made the past couple of years tough to get through, but that he was also feeling happy, ready to hear his name called and walk the graduation stage.
“It had its unexpected bumps, but we got through it, and we’re here,” Guerra said. “It went by too fast.”
Fellow graduate Victor Galvan said that, for him, it was his father who continued to be one of his own strongest supporters, and he sent out thanks to family and friends for their love.
“There’s always those people that give you that extra push to get past the finish line, I guess that’s how most people would feel here today,” Galvan said. “I feel excited and nervous, but also ready.”
During the ceremony, Principal Laura Hunter echoed that theme, encouraging the Westfield graduates to offer thanks to their families, teachers, counselors, and others who had been there for them. She also assured them they had what it took to continue the path of success after graduation.
“Graduates, you have faced many challenges the last few years, but you have overcome each one to arrive at this place and time,” Hunter said. “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.”
Westfield Class of 2023 Valedictorian Anh Nguyen spoke about coming to the U.S. from Vietnam as a young girl and the challenges she faced learning English. She said she never would have expected to find herself ultimately giving a speech – in her now-fluent second language – to her own graduating class while standing before them as valedictorian, and encouraged her fellow graduates to continue embracing new challenges throughout their lives.
“The biggest risk is not taking any risks,” Nguyen told her classmates. “Whether you fail or succeed, the most important thing is that you tried. Without risk-taking, you will never know your fullest potential.”
Afterwards, graduates celebrated outside the stadium and posed for pictures with family and friends. Among them was Westfield Girls’ Basketball Team Captain Jada Turner, now headed to Crowder College in Missouri on a full-ride athletic scholarship.
“I’m tired, but I’m glad,” Turner said. “I feel accomplished.”
Her father, Kirby Turner, looked on proudly, and joked that the family was already making plans to rent a bus to travel to Missouri for basketball games and visits.
“It’s going to be hard to see Jada go, of course, but I’m trying not to think about that right now,” Turner said. “Today was a good event, we had fun, Jada graduated, long time coming. She’s going to Missouri on a full ride, and everything worked out great.”
Spring High School
The district’s largest graduating class – numbering some 640 students – closed out this year’s graduation events during a Saturday evening ceremony.
As the Spring High School students gathered in the Randall Reed center to receive final instructions before lining up for the ceremony, they reflected on what had brought them to this milestone, and how life would change after graduation.
“I’m just thinking about what life’s going to be like after high school,” said Sarai Barmore, who is headed this fall to Louisiana State University to study English. “What responsibilities am I going to have? How is it going to be just having more freedom than I do now, going to college, and going away from friends and family?”
After earning her degree, Barmore plans to become an English teacher, and she cited her own teachers – both at Spring High School and in elementary and middle school – as a big reason behind her career plans.
“All the teachers I’ve had throughout my 12 years, they make their jobs seem really inspiring,” Barmore said, “and I just want to be able to help other people the way that they’ve helped me.”
For graduating senior Hughlyna Henry, meanwhile, the inspiration behind her future goals started closer to home, from watching her mom undergo medical treatment for a recurrent brain tumor. Inspired by seeing the care her mom has received over the years from doctors and neurosurgeons, Henry has opted to attend Texas A&M, pursuing a degree in biomedical science with the goal of becoming a surgical anesthesiologist.
“I’ve seen surgical anesthesiologists talk to my mom, and talk to her about what’s going to happen during surgery,” Henry said, “and they reassure her, and it makes her feel comfortable, and I just want to be that for somebody else.”
During the ceremony, Spring High School Principal Jalen Hemphill congratulated graduates for all their hard work, and for making it through such difficult times.
“You’ve been tested in ways that few before you have, and you’ve emerged stronger for it,” Hemphill said. “President Barack Obama once said, ‘Change is never easy, but always possible.’ You’ve lived this truth. … You’ve shown the world that the Spring High School Class of 2023 is made of strong, adaptable, resilient individuals.”
Spring High School Valedictorian Zaniah Wheeler – who is headed to the University of Chicago after being awarded a full-ride scholarship under the school’s Odyssey Scholars Program – spoke of the challenges she and others had faced, both individually and collectively, in making it to the special day.
“I would like to say congratulations to my fellow graduates and thank you to everyone for being here to share this special moment with us,” Wheeler said. “Tonight is a night to celebrate, reflect, and express gratitude. I hope you all savor this moment, because it is truly ours.”
Wheeler also reflected on the teachers and programs – like the Spring High School Band as well as the EMERGE Fellowship – that helped her make it through tough times as a high school student committed to achieving high levels of success.
“I am beyond proud to be standing before you, and I can confidently say I did not get here alone,” Wheeler said. “I want to thank all of those who have poured into me. It truly takes a village, and then some.”
After the ceremony ended, with the evening finally beginning to cool off, many graduates and their families lingered outside the stadium. Among those talking and taking family photos was Salutatorian Mia Sparacino, who is headed to University of Houston this fall with plans to go on from there to medical school.
“’I’m looking forward to experiencing that independence, that new step,” Sparacino said, “where I have to push myself to do it, instead of just hearing from people that you’ve got to do it.”
Sparacino’s parents, Melanie and Anthony Sparacino, both said how proud they were, and to be on the lookout for great things from their talented daughter, who excelled both in her STEM classes and as a musician in the Spring High School Band, where she played saxophone.
“She’s very strong-willed,” said Anthony Sparacino, “and when she puts her mind to something, she definitely follows through, no matter what it is.”
Sparacino’s mom, meanwhile, was relishing the moment, and expressed a sentiment also voiced by many other parents and family members lingering by the stadium parking lot, taking a few extra minutes to soak in the warmth of an early summer evening while enjoying a celebratory moment in the company of loved ones.
“We’re very proud of her!” she said.