By CHERIL VERNON
Commencement speakers discussed a common thread of encouraging graduating seniors to put God first in their lives, thanking their parents and teachers for their support over the years and encouraging each other to plan for their futures during the Palestine High School graduation ceremonies Friday at Wildcat Stadium.
Approximately 199 graduating seniors crossed the stage to receive their diplomas, marking the next step in their lives.
Palestine Independent School District Superintendent Jason Marshall commended the students, noting that nine students graduated while completing their entire freshman year of college, 25 passed their first semester in college and 59 graduated while passing one or more college classes.
Valedictorian Amber Brianna Magee compared each graduating senior to a growing tree, noting that there are two kinds of roots — a fibrous root that is large and expansive (such as a large support system) and a tap root that is concentrated with just a few, but can be just as nurturing as the first system.
“Just as trees cannot pick their root systems, we cannot pick our families or the life we are born into,” Magee said.
She encouraged her classmates to never get too far from their roots.
“Trees cannot survive without keeping a strong connection with their roots just as we will not survive if we shun our modest beginnings,” Magee said. “...Never forget the lessons we learned from our homes.”
Many times she has heard people say that it is impossible to succeed or achieve a goal because they are from Palestine, but Magee said that is completely false.
“This town will only be as successful as the individuals who return to comprise it. And therefore take pride in this town just as we take pride in ourselves,” Magee said. “It is our duty to this town — to our families — to be productive members of society and to contribute positively to this community and to this world. We must stay focused and be determined to be beacons of light from and for East Texas.”
Salutatorian Lauren Michelle Shiller compared the first day of school in kindergarten to graduation.
“On that first day, I was excited with my new rolling backpack. My parents were there, hovering over me and snapping pictures — just as I’m sure a lot of your parents were doing. That very first day of school we acquired a sense of what the next 12 years would hold for us. And we made new friends,” Shiller said. “In some ways not much has changed in 12 years... We didn’t bring our rolling backpacks, but our parents are still here with their cameras snapping pictures and wishing us well. We have our friends all around us and we are excited to walk across the stage to receive our diplomas.”
Shiller thanked the people who helped shape the Class of 2013 into the young adults they are today.
“Our families, of course, have given us love and taught us many fundamental aspects of life. Our friends have stood by our sides through thick and thin. Our teachers have also taught us many life lessons. Some have sacrificed the time to take us under their wing and help us through the four years at this school,” Shiller said. “You have all shaped us into the men and women we have become.”
Shiller also encouraged her graduating class to make plans for the future and to look to Jesus for strength and endurance.
“Life without goals would be like a race without a finish line,” Shiller said. “Because if goals are not set, life is meaningless... When we encounter perceived defeat and failures, remember every step back can plant the seed of an even greater victory that we would have never experienced. It’s our job to seek out these seeds that lead to greater accomplishments so we can become everything that God has created us to be.”
The third-highest ranking graduate Paul Andrew Webb reminded the class that they have their whole future in front of them.
“You choose how to live it. I would encourage you to live it for God,” Webb said. “...There will be times that are tough ahead but God is big enough to discipline us when we are wrong, encourage us when we are right and give us new and lasting relationships. This is not the end. This is only the beginning of the rest of our lives. Keep God first, others second and yourself always last.”
Senior class president Virginia Jane Thigpen, who led the turning of the tassels, thanked teachers for showing the class how important it is to be responsible.
“Throughout high school we realize now you didn’t give us extra days to turn things in because you wanted us to learn responsibility and time management,” Thigpen used as an example.
Faculty choice speaker Lesly Sabina Rubalcava, who gave the welcome, said graduation was “bittersweet” and reminded her fellow classmates that “God has a plan for all of us.”
Graduating senior Rajanee Chonte Thompson sang the National Anthem.
Also during the ceremony, a special presentation was made in memory of Evan Joseph Luna.