The Sulphur Springs High School Senior Class of 2022 celebrated 13 years of hard work Friday evening with commencement exercises. The weather cooperated, almost too well, with plenty of sunshine and heat to ensure the ceremony cold be held on the football field in Gerald Prim Stadium.
The program listed 254 senior candidates eligible to participate in the graduation ceremony, and they wasted no time filing in from two different directions, them walked in pair across the field to their seats on “Pomp and Circumstance” played by the Wildcat Band, located just back from the graduates and stage. Some strode with pride, others speed walked to catch up to longer strides of their walking partner, others practically skipped in excitement while a few walked carefully and other shuffled to their seats.
While all had on the uniform blue gowns and caps with yellow tassels, each graduate wore the stoles and cords they earned recognizing their various activities and achievements, and for a few their commitment to service in a branch of the Armed Forces.
Each graduate showed his or her own unique style and personality in the outfit and footwear worn beneath their gowns. Some were dressed formally, in ties and slacks or special occasion dresses, while others opted for more comfortable clothing more suited to the late May heat and field. Footwear varied from chunky to spiky heels, to platforms, flats, boots and dress shoes. A few had footwear adorned in shiny sequins and one even had gold spikes. Some waved to friends and family who called out cheers of excitement and encouragement.
Hopkins County Military Coalition participated, presenting the colors. The students selected classmates who gave opening and closing prayers. Another classmate sang the Star Spangled Banner acapella.
Superintendent Michael Lamb welcomed everyone, congratulated the class of 2022 on their accomplishment. He urged the class to remember as they jump into the next phase of their lives immediately following graduation, to keep in mind that it goes by quickly.
“You are destined to do great things. We are excited to see what you go do. You’ve overcome a lot of adversity, particularly the last few years and you have done well. This class has done many great things. I celebrate this with you, I’m excited for you, not only as an administrator but as a parent. I have one here too,” Superintendent Lamb said.
2022 Salutatorian Dawson Carpenter offered thanks to counselors and administrators who work tirelessly to meet the needs of their students; teachers and coaches who make it their mission to get hte best out of each student, often learning more about who the student are as people; and to his classmates for making the past four years enjoyable, from going all out to support the football team from the student section, to spending late nights hanging out at Whataburger when he probably should have been at home writing an essay. He said he would cherish the memories made with them during their time together.
He thanked his parents for instilling competitiveness spirit necessary for him to be where he is, as salutatorian.
“I cannot help but think how blessed we all are to come together tonight as we walk across this stage and into the next chapter of our lives. It is because of this blessing that I feel the need to acknowledge the thing that has been weighing so heavily on our nation’s heart this week,” Carpenter said.
He asked those present to join him in a moment of silence to honor the lives lost in the school shooting in Uvalde Tuesday. Afterward, he asked everyone to keep the community in their prayers as they grapple with the tragedy.
He then acknowledged being terrified of speaking in front of crowds, so much so that in second grade he told his mom he wanted to have the second best grades in high school so he wouldn’t have to give a speech at graduation.
“Standing in front of you tonight I am about as far out of my comfort zone as I can get. However, as we take the next step, we will be forced to leave the familiarity that we have all grown accustomed to over the past four years. I challenge Class of 2022 to embrace those uncomfortable situations and find personal growth that comes out of it. Give the speech, try out a new hobby, go out and meet new friends. the world is full of opportunities, you just have to seek them out for yourselves. Go out and show what a Sulphur Springs Wildcat is capable of,” Carpenters said.
Valedictorian Joel Villarino noted that the Class of 2022 is “the most exceptional class to come out of Sulphur Springs in recent years, and maybe for several to come.”
“No class has strived to make the most of our time at Sulphur Springs High School quite like 2022. We push each other to be the best versions of ourselves and we’ve created a class culture of excellence,” Villarino said.
The valedictorian note that several class members are competitive even at the national level academically, artistically and athletically. He expressed confidence that the Class of 2022 will be the best representatives of what Sulphur Springs is capable of. He said none of that, whoever would have been possible without the people who support them.
He noted all of his accomplishment to be the result of the sacrifices his parents have made for him.
“I couldn’t have wished for a better people to raise me. You always made sure I knew I was loved and that you are proud of me. To not try my best would have been a disservice to what you’ve done for me. Thank you for making me the young man you see here today,” Villarino said.
He offered thanks to his sister, who he’s watched grow into an extremely bright and unique person, who’s helped him, listed to him talk for hours and helped him with art.
“I know you’ll do great things, but do it your own way. Don’t feel pressure to follow the path I took,” he said sister Alexis.
Villarino then too thanked his classmates for pushing him to be the best version of himself he can be socially and academically. He said he is fortunate to call them peers and friends.
To the family of class members, he offered assurance that they’ve done their part ensuring this is an exceptional group of young adults and thanked them.
He said SSISD is fortunate to administrators who represent the caring and servants’ hearts that make up the core of the community, and offered thanks to them as well for the class.
He acknowledged that the teachers only see a fraction of what they do for students, and that past few years have been especially difficult for them, but that everything they do makes a difference in the lives of each and everyone of the graduates. He offered thanks to them.
Villarino said while the class has achieved great things while in high school, he believes it’s only the first chapter in the story of the class’ success.
“As we embark into an increasingly turbulent world, I hope we will become the future leaders that are so desperately needed right now. Nothing can be taken for granted. All of us remember going on spring break during our sophomore year and never coming back. And, as we were reminded this Tuesday, we live in a world that is truly capable of pure evil – so much so that it can be hard to see light in the dark. We are in a turning point in history and now it is up to us to do our part toward steering us to a brighter future. We cannot afford to sit idle as our rights and our values are being threatened. Change must be made, and we must make our voices heard,” Villarino said.
He then challenged his classmates to make a conscience effort to make a difference in the world, no matter how big or small. He said the past four years are a testament to how quickly time passes. He urged his classmates to not let time pass them by, to find a purpose and stick to it, to always strive to be the best versions of themselves, to not lose the drive that brought so much success in high school and toe remember that there are no limits to what they can do.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to grow up with. I hope you will look at the future of the class of 2022 as a beacon of light in our dark world,” Villarino concluded.
Four members of the Class of 2022 played and sang, “Good Old Days,” the class song.
Principal Derek Driver certified that all of the class members present have met all of the state and local requirement as candidates for graduation. School Board President Robert Cody accepted the certification. Renee Maeker then called each candidate’s name. Students then walked the stage to receive their diploma from school officials and shake their hands in congratulations.
Some ambled along slowly, some waved and pointed to family in the audience, others practically raced the stage eagerly, some were stoic, while others brimmed with accomplishment and delight in reaching this milestone, several made the most of their moment in the spotlight by offering fist pumps and cheers, and a few offered prayers of thanks at making it to walk the stage. Most were greeted by clapping cheering and having their name and encouragement called by family and friends. Classmates also cheered and clapped for classmates.
Those handing out the diplomas alternated, and in a few cases, educators, administrators and board members were allowed to present diplomas to their students or those they were especially close to.
Principal Derek Driver gave fist bumps in celebration just before they turned to walk the ramp off the stage and return to their seats on the field.
Many were greeted by airhorns, and cheers from their family and friends, including classmates.
After joining together across the rows for the alma mater one last time as students, and the closing prayer, Driver officially dismissed the Class of 2022, ending the graduation ceremony in a sea of blue caps and yellow tassels, and whoops and cheers, and a tide of family and friend descending to the field to offer congratulations and some flowers for their graduates. Several graduates posed together and with family members for photos to commemorate the occasion. A few were on the phone with others who were not able to attend and making plans to gather afterward.