By Lindsay Starr Platt, Correspondent
Thursday evening at Bell County Expo Center, 663 seniors of Belton High School walked across the stage to get their high school diplomas. The commencement exercise honored all those students that persevered through the “thick and the thin” and graduated high school. High school graduation is the first step on crossing that bridge into the adult world.
As Belton is one of the communities that surround Fort Hood, many students that have ties to the military and often times parents or loved ones cannot always make it to school functions, to include graduations. On a projection screen, Lieutenant General Shawn B. MacFarland, Commanding General, III Corps, Fort Hood, gave a message to the graduates, reassuring the students with deployed parents that their parents love them and would be there if they could, as they support missions around the world. Killeen Independent School district provided Grad Cast, a live broadcast that was able to be viewed at locations around the world to include the Middle East and Korea. Grad Cast is also available to view online.
The class salutatorian and valedictorian, in turn, went up to the podium to speak as classmates, friends and family listened. They delivered their speeches they worked hard on, with as much poise, finesse and courage as they could embody.
Jasmine Peng gave the Class of 2016 valedictory speech, and said, “Tonight the countdowns end. No more days left of high school, no more hours left until graduation. It’s strange to think that four years ago we entered Belton High School as young fourteen-year-olds who didn’t know where their next class was and now we’re leaving as adults… As we enter into the world of self-accountability I hope we don’t forget the lessons learned from our families which have shaped us into the people we are today. But, also that as we continue onwards we are capable of deciding for ourselves what to believe and what not to believe. My wish is that we remember to take the road less traveled by and that it makes all the difference… That we look past the heartache of leaving home and instead hope to leave a positive legacy in the community so we can keep in mind that ‘in order to leave something significant behind, you have to leave.’I hope that we use this moment as a reminder to live actively as opposed to passively… Today, class of 2016, our lives begin. And I for one can’t wait. Oh, and for those of you who’ve been asking since the sixth grade, my name is pronounced Miao.”
Both the valedictorian and salutatorian spoke of triumph, defeat, fear and drive to finish. They expressed to fellow graduates about the accomplishments of today and conveyed encouragement for future endeavors.
“My time here at Belton High has been nothing short of hard work, determination, and quite a few sleepless nights. There is so much work to be done, but not enough time in the day to do it all. For all of the difficulties I and many of us have faced here, we have to thank you, Belton High School. Now, I know you all can attest to this at some points during your high school career, but I am standing here today to tell you all that it is over. It is done. The times of spending one-third of our day at school, pulling seniority on underclassmen, and the exercise of the phrase ‘due today, do today’ have been eluded for now. Congratulations are more than in order for all of us tonight,” said Christina Gaw, Belton High School, Class of 2016, salutatorian. “For those of you who seek to stay here in this community, I give my greatest gratitude to you all and only ask that you try your best to keep this place as good as it is, and if not to improve it. I truly hope that happiness finds its way into your lives if it hasn’t already, and that the future holds opportunities for you all.”
As graduates clutched their diplomas, the smiles beaming on their faces could not be missed, whatever the struggles were; whether it was academically, socially or just getting through those ‘teenage years’, they did it and made it through high school and it is behind them now. As the class of 2016 received their diplomas, the cheering from the stands and the flashes from the cameras was non-stop during the ceremony. With their diplomas in hand, a flick of the tassel from right to left on their mortarboards, which were soon tossed in the air, there they were, the class of 2016.
“Over the past four years, the Belton High School Class of 2016 has worked not just to earn a diploma but also to prepare themselves to excel in tomorrow’s world,” commented Susan Kincannon, Superintendent, Belton Independent School District. “Our high school students can choose from 99 courses in career and technical education courses, 22 in fine arts and humanities, and 57 advanced placement and dual credit classes. They can also participate in dozens of clubs or compete on one of 21 varsity sports teams. You can’t get that kind of choice and opportunity anywhere else.”
Family and friends could not wait to hug their graduates as they waited with bouquets, candy leis and other gifts in hand. Graduates and family members alike were teary-eyed as they posed for photographs to commemorate this major milestone. Every graduate had their own milestone, accomplishments including, graduating with honors, combined associate’s degrees, personal roadblocks that were overcome and some completed high school in only three years.
“I’m so proud of her. She graduated a year early. She took self-paced classes,” said Valerie Broland, mother of a graduate, Alisya Johnson. “She rocked that program like no one else had ever had ever done before, she was getting her classes done in no time.”