Midway ISD commencement celebrates seniors’ resilience, success

By Katy Durham

After days of rain, the skies over Panther Stadium cleared just in time for 630 Midway High School seniors to walk across the stage and receive their much-anticipated diplomas. 

Dr. Becky Odajima, director of innovation and learning at Midway High School, presents her son, Grayson, with his diploma at this year’s commencement. (Photo by Traci Marlin)

Family members, friends, teachers, and administrators were eager to share in the excitement of recognizing the Class of 2021 as they crossed the finish line and graduated high school on the evening of Friday, May 28.  

“These students have been dedicated and persisted through tough times,” Midway High School Principal Alison Smith said. “I have enjoyed watching them grow to become strong young adults that are ready to take on the world.”

After Midway ISD was able to hold in-person classes and keep its doors open throughout the entire school year, many of the students who spoke during the ceremony expressed how meaningful it was to gather as a class one final time in celebration of their achievement and the past 13 years of hard work. 

“Tonight is a fantastic evening to have the entire Class of 2021 back together for this finale of their high school careers,” Smith said. “We just thought that the Class of 2020 would be the only group affected by the worldwide pandemic, but I truly feel like the Class of 2021 has persevered through much more.”

After an unpredictable year, the dedication and determination displayed by this year’s group of graduating seniors was highlighted in multiple speeches.

“Life has thrown so much at us so quickly,” Midway High School Valedictorian David Park said as he addressed his classmates. “But that diploma isn’t just validation of your hard work and efforts. It’s also a tremendous testament to your character.”

Midway High School top five graduates (l-r):  Walker Pierce, Codi McMillan, Drew Pinkstaff, Salutatorian Avery Hammond, and Valedictorian David Park. (Photo by Traci Marlin)

Midway High School Salutatorian Avery Hammond also reflected on how navigating high school through a pandemic was no small feat.

“As a class, we learned to be flexible, to be resilient, and to appreciate each moment spent together,” Hammond said. “Although this was not the senior year we expected, it most definitely was a senior year worthwhile.”

Midway ISD Superintendent Dr. George Kazanas noted in his speech that when the Class of 2021 first began high school, no one had any idea they would have to walk through such a historical event during some of their most formative years.

“But I think because of the pandemic, the class of 2021 is more prepared for life than any class that came before them,” Kazanas said. “You are more encouraging, more imaginative, compassionate, and more resilient. This journey has grown and stretched you, and you will not be defined by COVID-19, but you will be known for what you gained from it.”

There was also no shortage of gratitude from the student speakers, who each took time on behalf of their class to express appreciation for the faculty and staff at Midway who supported them throughout their education.

“As we prepare to leave, let us take a moment to remember what Midway has given us,” fifth-ranked graduating senior Walker Pierce said. “From the custodians, to the administrators, to everyone in between, these people have spent their lives in dedication to us and our future success.” 

“Our administrators, counselors, teachers, custodians, and guardians have worked harder than ever to accommodate both in-person and virtual students this year,” Park said. 

The graduation ceremony concluded with a fireworks display in celebration of Midway High School’s newest graduates and their well-deserved success.

“This senior class has provided Panther Nation with so many reasons to be proud,” Smith said.

Katy Durham is a senior journalism student at Baylor University and a communications intern for Midway ISD.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

Waco ISD celebrates Class of 2021 at commencement ceremonies

By Josh Wucher

More than 750 Waco ISD seniors from Waco, University, and Brazos high schools crossed the stage during graduation ceremonies this weekend at the district’s athletic complex. 

University High School Commencement

Waco ISD joined parents, family, and friends in recognizing graduates as they capped off their high school experience as the Class of 2021. It was a special celebration of all that the students had accomplished.

“My heart is filled with pride,” Dr. Susan Kincannon, Waco ISD superintendent, expressed to seniors. “How this class, the Class of 2021, has met this moment is inspiring. You have reinvented traditions like prom, embraced new ways of learning, overcome quarantines, and excelled.”

The Class of 2021’s resilience throughout the pandemic was a topic of many graduation speeches.

“We thrived because we did not give up despite all the obstacles we had to overcome,” Emily Alvarado, University High School salutatorian said. “We all went through experiences that changed us, but helped shape us to who we are today.”

Waco High School Salutatorian Bonnie Gibson echoed that sentiment.

Waco High School Commencement

“Saying that this year has been unusual would be quite the understatement,” she said. “Yet in spite of it all, we have made it to this day. … As you enter into a new chapter of life, face whatever challenges that may come with determination and perseverance.”

Karin Rodriguez and Evelyn Guevara, University and Waco high school valedictorians respectively, acknowledged how much their families helped guide them on their 13-year educational journey, as well as honored their Hispanic heritage.

“I personally am proud of my Hispanic origin and proud to be a son of Mexican immigrants, who traveled here to make a better life for me and my brothers,” Rodriguez said. “Even though they had their own hardships and came home from work tired and drained, they constantly pushed me to do my best. … Because of their constant support, I am forever grateful.”

Guevara, Waco High’s first Hispanic female valedictorian, similarly shared a pride in being a first-generation student.

“Thank you to my parents, who immigrated to the United States with nothing, to give me everything. This is for you and by you,” she said. “As much as we have grown and matured over the years, Waco ISD has grown alongside us. They have given us the opportunities and the platform to become the best version of ourselves … I am very proud to say that I am a product of Waco ISD for this reason.”

Speaking to that foundational vision of supporting students, School Board Vice President Stephanie Korteweg said Waco High’s Class of 2021 represents the latest chapter in the school’s history, which dates back more than a century to a building on Columbus Avenue.

“While the location has changed over the years and new buildings have replaced old, the school’s legacy of preparing students to succeed beyond its walls remains constant,” she said. 

Korteweg also emphasized the united team of University staff and administrators, along with friends and families, who have encouraged and guided students throughout their time in Waco ISD.

“This community won’t come to an end when you walk across this stage,” she said. “You will share these moments with your fellow graduates for the rest of your life, and no matter where that life takes you, we will be cheering you on.” 

Principals concluded each ceremony with words of wisdom they typically share during morning announcements.

“We encourage you to remember two things: [Our Goal] Love, Serve, and Care; and Once a Trojan, Always a Trojan,” Ricky Edison, principal of University High, said.

“Graduates, know your worth; know the greatness that you possess. You are here to win; you are born to win,” James Stewart, principal of Waco High, said.

Joshua Wucher is Waco ISD’s executive director for communications.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].