Graduation 1, storm 0: SHS seniors escape with smooth ceremony

Staff Writer
Stephenville Empire-Tribune
Stephenville High School's Class of 2020 finally got together one last time, for their commencement exercise Friday night at Tarleton's Memorial Stadium.

Aside from the COVID-19 virus shutting down school and all extracurricular activities at spring break — and other unforeseen and unfortunate acts of nature — Stephenville High School’s year ended on a smooth note Friday night with the graduation ceremony for 254 seniors at Tarleton State University’s Memorial Stadium.

Plans had been made to have a fireworks show after the traditional hat toss near the end, school officials had said — but the incoming weather conditions had something to say about that. Although the ceremony began at 8 p.m. with a fairly pleasant temperature and somewhat windy conditions, there didn’t appear to be any storm clouds that would offer an immediate threat at that time.

But after sunset, winds began to whip across the field with increasing velocity, forcing the cancellation of the fireworks. SHS Principal Stephanie Traweek said that the approaching storm system was being monitored, and Tarleton’s risk management team advised at some point during the ceremony that it was too windy.

Fortunately, the rain and lightning storm that moved through the area held off until later. The Stephenville airport reported that 1.26 inches of rain was measured there, between 11:15 p.m. Friday and about 5 a.m. Saturday. Some other nearby towns got even higher rain totals, plus some fierce lightning. One Tolar resident posted that he received 4.25 inches of rain from that storm.

“It did go pretty smooth,” Traweek said Monday. “I’m just glad that we got it done before the storm hit. We were excited for them.”


The ceremony, of course, featured speeches from the class valedictorian, Katie Campbell, and salutatorian Claire Choate. Senior Class President Piyush Prakash Pathak also addressed the crowd from the podium, along with Traweek and SISD Superintendent Matt Underwood.

“We really did make it, despite our spring break that never ended,” Campbell said from the podium. “Standing here, it feels surreal — we haven’t been together in over three months, and the fact that it’s June now is really the only thing that proves time has progressed since March.”

Campbell emphasized to her classmates the power of taking responsibility for their own actions and for their own education so that they can find their way through the challenges ahead, beyond school.

She stated, “If you take one thing from my words tonight, let it be this: You are your own living, breathing person, and no one else can decide who you get to be. You must make that choice yourself.

“If we can all choose to take responsibility for ourselves, we will live our kindest, most understanding lives. We will find a deeper compassion for others when we think through our choices before making them. We will realize that few issues are truly binary, and that each side is rarely as simple as ‘good or bad.’

“We will realize the importance of understanding the world around us and having nuanced opinions that can change when we gain new information. We will realize that every single person here wants to be understood, and that there is enrichment to be found in understanding those who seemed too different for us to ever understand.

“Regardless of your plans after tonight, I hope we can all walk our own paths, united by our determination to become the best versions of ourselves we can be. We will never again be the same people we are in this moment, but I hope we can all carry that change with pride. It is with genuine joy that I wish every one of you the best both now and in the future, wherever life takes you. May we all find our own happiness in life.”

During Choate’s speech, she said, “I believe that we are leaving as accomplished young adults who have learned, even from mistakes, grown, and who are now destined for meaningful contributions to our world.”

She continued, “After graduation, a lot of us will be officially considered adults and have more expectations of us than ever before. As we grow up and get busier with college, jobs, and new responsibilities, it’s always important to remember what matters the most.

“I believe that above all, we should always be kind to others and remember to form meaningful relationships with those around you. My mom always gave me the advice to “Smile and be nice.” It’s simple but powerful, because if you do these things, chances are you will make someone’s day and maybe even inspire them to do the same for someone else.

“It’s easy to focus on yourself, especially growing up in today’s world, when we have so many worldly pressures that demand what seems to be our constant attention. I believe the answer to this and any situation we deal with in life is simple: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. This is what Jesus would have us do. It is the sum of all God’s commandments, and it is the ultimate and only real, lasting solution to any of our problems.”

Choate was also the senior class treasurer. Casey Ryan Pack Jr. was Student Body Class President and Senior Class Vice President. Class Secretary was Gabrielle Alexus Lucero. Class Reporter was Chloe Simone Coates.

SHS valedictorian Katie Campbell delivers her speech.