LHHS sends off the Class of 2020
By Scott Akanewich
At last, the seniors of Liberty Hill High School were able to bring the curtain down properly.
After being initially scheduled for May 22, only to be postponed due to the global pandemic, the Class of 2020 was finally able to go ahead with their commencement on June 5 at Panther Stadium.
According to Liberty Hill ISD Superintendent Steve Snell, the event almost never happened but for an impassioned plea from the graduates themselves.
“Four weeks ago, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to do this,” said Snell, in his opening remarks to the crowd. “But, the seniors came to me and said, ‘If there’s one thing we want more than any other, it’s one last sunset together as a class.’ So, here we are – God is good and we’re going to have a great evening.”
Cole Ondrasek began with the official welcome followed by the invocation from Lana Scott and the Pledge of Allegiance, which was led by Lauren LaDuque.
Emily Barnett kicked off the festivities with a rousing version of the National Anthem and was pleased to be back among her classmates, she said.
“Singing the anthem was a huge honor and an unbelievable opportunity,” said Barnett, who will attend Baylor University and study musical theater performance. “It’s so exciting to see everybody one last time.”
However, there was one thing that caused her consternation before the ceremony.
“I’m super nervous because of all the walking I’m going to have to do in these shoes,” she joked, referring to her choice of high-heel footwear.
Madison Sears was one of the graduates on this night and was overwhelmed by the opportunity to re-unite with her classmates after the global COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended their senior year.
“This is so awesome,” said Sears, who starred in cross country and track during her time in Purple-and-Gold and will attend Blinn College before transferring to either Texas A&M or the University of Colorado. “For me, it’s a mix of emotions and it’s definitely different, but it was important for me to be able to have this closure.”
Vince Hernandez, who will study architecture at the University of Texas, was already looking forward to the impact he plans on having on the world – but not without one last chance to reflect back.
“I like being able to leave a footprint,” he said. “But, I’ve been looking forward to this ceremony for my whole life.”
Once all 282 seniors had migrated from the staging area to the floor of the stadium – sitting in white chairs placed six feet apart in observance of social distancing policies – the first of the night’s speakers stepped to the podium in class Salutatorian Sutton Landers-Carlyon, who spoke about the massive amount of changes all of them had gone through over the entire four-year matriculation process.
“High school was daunting for all of us,” he said. “We were leaving a world of familiarity and undergoing drastic changes. As humans, we’re creatures of habit by nature and resist change – nobody wants to live a new life, so we wage war against change, yet here we are sitting now as different people.”
Landers-Carlyon, who will study chemical engineering at the University of Texas, went on to more closely describe his own transformation from just another kid who wanted to get by at the beginning to the determined, motivated young man he had grown into.
“Back when I was freshman, all I wanted to do was the bare minimum,” he said. “But, that quickly faded and now I’m confident all of us can tackle anything that comes our way.”
Valedictorian Shantika Ramsingh soaked in the moment and everything it represented during her speech.
“I remember walking into a new school on the first day of freshman year,” she said. “In some ways, it seemed as if this day would never come.”
Ramsingh then went on to list some of the memories that will stand out in her mind for the rest of her life, breaking them down into specific places on the school grounds.
“This building over here holds so many memories for me,” she said. “From the dance room to the foyer where I was fitted for my cap and gown.”
She went on to say perhaps the chain of events was exactly as it was meant to be.
“We didn’t get the ending we deserved to our senior year, as far as all the things we missed out on,” said Ramsingh, who will attend the University of Texas and major in environmental engineering. “Although the past will be remembered and the future is in store, all we have is right now.”
In closing, a sense of nostalgia was already beginning to set in.
“When I look back at high school, I won’t remember all the stress, all the studying or tests I either failed or nailed,” she said. “Building meaningful relationships is more important than good grades.”
Liberty Hill High School Principal Jonathan Bever was one of the final speakers after the graduates had all filed up to the front to receive their diplomas and returned to their seats.
“This might not be what we had imagined,” he said, of the health guidelines, the manner in which the ceremony was held and the timing of it. “But, despite all the bumps and bruises along the way, look who’s still standing.”
Bever went on to praise those seated before him as he looked out over the assembled student body.
“I believe this will now be a generation which doesn’t take anything for granted,” he said. “All of you have come to the powerful realization how important is it to value what you have, when you have it. You’ve chosen to be better and look at it as if everything has happened for you and not to you.”
Sage advice was the next thing Bever offered for consideration.
“As you move forward, trust in your instincts,” he said. “Always be conscious of choices which can affect your future – always be true to yourself and remain loyal to your core values, but follow your dreams, embrace opportunities and listen to advice from others who have wisdom, experience and even those who have made mistakes. You’ve all learned a great deal this year and I believe this senior class is now stronger because of where you sit.”
Sears said the occasion was almost too good to be true.
“It feels surreal to all be here together again after we’ve been apart,” she said. “In a way, it felt like we had all moved on with our lives already. But, it just goes to show with all the bad stuff going on, there’s always something better at the end, so that makes this even more special.”