Last week, Principal Angelina Garcia saw her first senior class graduate since becoming the administrative head of Veterans Memorial High School. Her voice broke as addressed the 435 students who stood together for the last time at Saturday’s commencement ceremony.
“You have set the standard high for following classes to mimic,” Garcia said. “If I had to choose any other class to initiate me to be a high school principal, I would choose every one of you.”
The class of 2015 saw VMHS become the Battle of Conway champs, state representation in athletics and electives such as SkillsUSA and a state-recognized mariachi. Among the graduates are two National Hispanic Scholars and a National Merit Scholar. In addition, the 2015 class boasts a 97 percent graduation rate, and it’s the first class with students who also have obtained associate degrees.
Superintendent Ricardo Lopez singled out a few students who have overcome hardship in their lives. They served as example of the struggles the students face while still earning their accolades.
One of the students was placed into foster care due to an unsuitable home environment. Another student lost her single mother and had to be raised by family members. Student Zoe Alaniz is paralyzed from the waist down, but became Veterans’ first wheelchair athlete for track and field. He made it to the state finals, placing fourth in shot put.
“There’s greatness all around us,” Lopez said. “There are obstacles that we don’t see in our lives. These individuals, and many I didn’t mention today, nothing was handed to you; everything was earned.”
Salutatorian Henry Davis said what made his school special was the close-knit community that the members share.
“I think that the familiarity in our town and our district is awesome. Not the word awesome that you use casually on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “I mean awesome as in it truly leaves me in awe to see how our school, our community and the people in it can connect with one another.”
Toward the end of Lee Sanchez’s valedictorian speech, after he joked that his mom actually wrote it, gave his sponsor a “shameless” plug and thanked friends and family, he gave his peers a word of advice.
“Expect disappointment from both yourself and other people, but don’t let is stop you from moving past it,” he said. “You have to go out and take things you want in life. With that being said, I am no way encouraging you to do anything illegal. Remember, class of 2015, make reasonable choices.”