By Lindsay Starr Platt, The Belton Journal
On Thursday afternoon at Bell County Expo Center, 105 seniors from Belton New Tech High School @Waskow walked the stage at the first ever graduating class. The commencement exercises honored all those those that stuck through it and graduated high school, crossing that bridge into the adult world. The New Tech campus opened in the Fall of 2011 with just an enrollment of freshman students and each year after that adding another freshman class.
“These students and their families decided to try something unique, something innovative and, yes, something a bit uncertain. After all, when they signed up to attend New Tech, the school didn’t exist yet. In the four years since that first camp-out, these students have helped build a school that is nationally recognized, and they have shaped its culture.” said Dr. Susan Kincannon, superintendent, Belton ISD. “Their contributions helped create a campus that is both unique and innovative. Today, their decision to take a chance on New Tech has paid off. I am proud to live in a community that supports our students.”
As one of the communities that surround Fort Hood, Texas, Belton schools has many students that have ties to the military and often times parents or loved ones cannot always make it to school functions, including 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 to know that they love them and would be there if they could as they support missions around the world.
As stated in Belton ISD website; Belton New Tech is a public high school that focuses on engaging students through the use of Project-Based Learning. Our goal is to graduate students who are confident, knowledgeable, and responsible collaborators who are ready for whatever path they choose. Whether they go to college, start their own business, or enter the workforce directly after high school, they will do so with a strong set of skills to help them be successful.
“For those that are unfamiliar with our school’s history, it all began when the young adults sitting in front of you were in the eighth grade. We listened to the presentations of Mr. Whittle and Dr. Lovesmith and were convinced that Belton New Tech would be a great place to experience high school. I will remember my time in high school very fondly. We were the first class to camp out to gain our spot in this school, the first class to enjoy the newly refurbished building, and the first class to find out how fast one can go down the ramp on an ottoman.” said Cooper Ross, National Honor Society Officer. “Throughout the four years at Belton New Tech, we have incorporated “project based learning”. The teachers plan the curriculum around projects which incorporate collaboration, hard work, and a variety of presentation techniques. This allows students to work with others developing social skills that will aid them as they go out into the world and also allows students to be creative and connect multiple concepts into one final product. As students, we have focused on academic excellence. This type of learning has encouraged our class to engage in critical thinking and given us the skills to lead our communities in the future.”
Caleb Cable, salutatorian, New Tech High School @Waskow, class of 2015, said in his salutatory address:
“It surprises me to think that four years ago, New Tech was just starting. It astounds me even more to remember that I was hesitant to sign up. The glittering generality, “Courage” comes to mind when I think of the commitment we all made. Project Based Learning was only just gaining notice in the public eye when Belton ISD decided to apply for a grant to implement a New Tech school in our area. While I attended Belton Middle School, I gazed at the “Big High School” across the street. The big kids there seemed so confident, so charismatic, and so tall. I didn’t have any of those traits. I felt ready for high school, but I didn’t feel excited. I would be leaving so many of my friends behind. Friends that I had known since third grade would no longer be my classmates. At that point, I didn’t have the courage necessary to willingly step out into the great unknown, so someone had to give me a little nudge. It isn’t easy to dive headfirst into a new situation. If it were easy to lead, everyone would want to take charge in a group project. It isn’t easy to be a guinea pig, but we all did it. We, as a class, have courage, and it shines through what we have created here.
Back then, it took courage to socialize with the rest of the oddballs around here, but now, I am here graduating with my best friends in the world. It took courage to stand up and present for the first time, but now I’m speaking on a stage without sweating through my gown. We all displayed our courage first as freshmen, and we have persevered to this day.
“A few students were chosen to lead crowds of people through our halls. Whenever we had outside visitors, I always felt like a peacock fluffing my feathers. I would sit there flaunting my new found technological skill set while the tourists just stared in amazement from behind the glass. We gave tours to the Apple executives, the Texas Commissioner of Education, countless reporters, and mobs of little learners from Tyler Elementary School. When we showcase our unique culture, our visitors consistently wear expressions of awe. Here at New Tech, we, the guinea pigs, have created something unique. We have created a family-like atmosphere and a focused learning environment that we have passed on to the next class. We wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if we didn’t have the courage to make something new.”
Class of 2015, New Tech High School @Waskow, Valedictorian, Alyssa Callin said:
“Our parents may have helped us out on our way here, but the people who have truly earned this event are us, the students. We have spent eight hours a day at school, five days a week, nine months a year, for twelve plus years. That’s about 19,000 hours in school, for those who want to do the math. If anyone deserves to have an event catered to them, it’s us.
“When I first began planning this speech, I stumbled upon the dictionary definition of valedictorian. I suppose that might be further proof as to why I am here right now, but I actually found it extremely interesting. Again, why I’m here. A valedictorian is the person who delivers the valedictory, which is a farewell address. And this will be a farewell for most of us. It’s unlikely that I will see many of you again, in either the near or distant future. For some of us, that’s probably going to be okay. To pretend otherwise is to sugarcoat things. For most of you, however, this is unfortunate. Either way it’s a weird and crazy thought. In a small school like New Tech, I’ve gotten used to seeing the same set of faces for four years now. We’ve all gotten a lot older, which is another weird and crazy thought. For some of us, this is a good thing; those of us who have always wanted to be done with high school and get on with our lives are biting at the bit to go and do so. I know for me personally, though, time is beginning to feel a lot like water in that I’m not always aware how fast it’s draining from my cupped hands until it’s entirely gone.
“I think it has something to do with change. Change is scary, and change is exhilarating. We are the generation to know this better than any other in history. The years of our childhood and the years of our teens were so vastly different from each other because the world around us had changed faster than our ability to change with it. However, we are not the only ones swept up in these changes.
“Older generations have written us off as the generation of shallow materialism; us kids these days with our selfies, instabooks, and facegrams. Hashtag this generation. Little do they know, however, the pattern that has been, and always will be, repeated: each generation is destined to debunk the obsolete beliefs of the one before it. Their own generation followed this pattern, and I have no doubts future generations will follow this pattern as well. But that is the way of humanity.
“Previous generations have forgotten who the driving force of change has been for almost the entirety of human history. Civilization itself was built by teenagers. Our views about the struggling economy, our polluted planet, may be considered cynical or jaded by some, but many seem to forget the origin of these views: we were raised on the beliefs of our elders, and have inherited issues we will soon have to find solutions for. I hope our fate as we take our place in society will be destroying the toxic and long held biases of our parents and grandparents. That we will be able to judge people solely on the merits of their hearts and minds, and not merely on the color of their skin, the person they love, or their gender.
“That may be my inner optimist coming through, though. I would like to believe that in a society where information is a more easily accessible commodity than anything else, we will let knowledge prevail over ignorance. Understanding acceptance over mindless hatred. In my opinion, New Tech is doing a pretty good job of this so far. For the most part, students here are more than willing to make an effort to learn about and accept views other than their own.
“However, I am not so foolish as to believe that simple idealism will solve problems. I recognize that any improvement to the human condition will come from the hard work and dedication of the people with a personal stake in making sure everything works out well. It is entirely up to us, to our generation, to ensure that life on this planet is worth living. To address concerns beyond the profit margin, and think a little bigger. In the fifties, science fiction painted the image of a gleaming future. All the problems were solved, and everything was clean and chrome plated. This is no longer the idea we have of what is to come. We fear the future. We fear our dying planet, our controlling government. We fear others. We fear ourselves. And my greatest fear is that this isn’t just imagination. We are headed down a dark path.
“But hope is not lost. The people who I have had the fortune to know, to become friends with, to learn from, are a source of hope. Some of the brightest minds and most compelling personalities I’ve ever encountered have been from New Tech. It’s kind of my job as valedictorian to butter y’all up with encouraging words and hopes for the future. And, I hope that you’ll believe me when I say that I truly enjoyed my time at this school, not only with my fellow students, but with the teachers as well. I doubt that I could have been the person I am today without the guidance and support of New Tech’s staff. I mean, I probably would have used Google to write my speech without them. And probably my sister would have rolled her eyes a lot more at me when I forced her to listen to me practice. But I am a teenager, so I still used Google. According to Wikihow, I was supposed to avoid the sweeping generalizations and ‘chosen generation’ clichés. Whoops, I maybe failed at that.
“So sure, maybe not all of us will end up as President of the United States, or a business mogul, movie star, professional athlete. But, I do believe all of us can make a positive difference to the world around us. The world is changing. And we know change better than anyone. We were the ones who, four years ago, decided to embrace uncertainty and come to this school. And because of the risks we took, we were able to become better and more confident people for the experience. If anyone can thrive in our constantly evolving society, it will be us. The world is ours for the taking, yes, but it is also ours for the making. Making change, making a difference. Making the world a better place. And based on what we’ve done so far, I’d say we’re off to a pretty good start.
“Congratulations to the graduating class of 2015.”
Dr. Deanna Lovesmith, assistant superintendent, remarked, “Today, you have completed what we started together four years ago. It all began in May 2011 at our first get together – Nacho Average School! From that moment, you committed to us and we committed to you. Since then, you have successfully built a new high school. Without you, we would not have the Belton New Tech we have today. For that, we are all very thankful.”
“Graduation was really special. It was a true honor to get to hand each student their diploma, shake their hand and see the excitement in their eyes. I hope that each graduate has fond memories of their years in Belton ISD to carry with them into adulthood,” commented Kincannon.