Indoor ceremony for Panthers commencement
By Scott Akanewich
In a year when they were faced with obstacles no other senior class had ever encountered, it was only fitting Liberty Hill High School’s Class of 2021 Commencement was forced indoors after severe thunderstorms blew through town in the hours leading up to the event.
However, the fact the festivities took place in the confines of the gym as opposed to the spacious climes of Panther Stadium did little to dampen the atmosphere within the walls of the building to match the conditions outside.
In fact, the close quarters only added to the event, said Liberty Hill ISD superintendent Steve Snell.
“I think it actually provided a more intimate setting,” said Snell. “Being up closer, you can see the joy on the faces of the graduates and the parents.”
Liberty Hill High School Principal Jonathan Bever added to the positive outlook.
“Wow,” said Bever, as he began his remarks to the standing-room-only crowd. “This is the most people I’ve ever seen here in the gym.”
Of course, everyone in the stands were there to see those who had gathered below on the hardwood floor where basketball and volleyball are usually contested – 308 Liberty Hill seniors who were a short walk and a handshake away from being newly-minted high school graduates.
The fact the ceremony was able to be feasibly switched from an outdoor venue to an indoor one is something that couldn’t have happened a year ago in the midst of the pandemic, so simply having the ability to do so – as the administration waited as long as possible to make the final decision of where the ceremony would take place – was a blessing, said Snell.
“Our kids and staff have been through a lot this year,” he said. “So, it was great for all the parents to be able to come in and celebrate the accomplishments of all our seniors.”
Following an introduction by senior Aryn Bagley and an invocation led by fellow grad Haley Polsner, senior Kristen Holliday led the crowd in the “Pledge of Allegiance” before the Liberty Hill High School Choir sang the National Anthem.
Class of 2021 salutatorian Jessica Holliday was the first of the featured speakers to step up to the podium and delivered a speech that was centered on fancying herself as a “collector of dreams” and how she cultivated her own by observing and taking into account those of others.
“We’ve all had aspirations,” said Holliday. “I’ve become quite the collector and I specialize in collecting dreams.”
Holliday went on to describe how she witnessed a classmate who made words come to life in the form of writing and colors splash across a blank canvas by another, which inspired her.
“The more I looked at the dreams of others, I developed my own,” she said. “I have dreams for this entire student body and I know our innovation will forge a path to the future.”
Valedictorian Robert Mundy, Jr. began with a tribute to those closest to him who he attributed much of his success over the past four years to – leading off with a good-natured jab founded on a hoops sibling rivalry.
“First, my younger sister Gabby,” he said. “Who knows I’ll always beat her at one-on-one because I’m still the best basketball player in the family.”
After that, his tone became more serious.
“I would like to thank the people who I couldn’t have done this without,” he said. “My dad, of course and my mom. She’s always been my constant source of encouragement and reminded me school comes before sports. Both of them are who got me here.”
However, Mundy ended up getting one over on mom, too, as he had with his sister moments earlier.
“Whenever I looked for Mom’s old report cards so I could compare them with mine, I could never find them,” he joked.
Mundy then shared a story that he said fueled him all the way through high school to be the best student he could possibly be.
“When I was in eighth grade, I had a teacher who said another student was going to be the smartest one once we got to high school,” he said. “I always worked hard in order to prove her wrong.”
But, that was only half the story.
“I think if there’s one thing the Class of 2021 has learned, it’s how to turn a negative into a positive,” said Mundy, of the trials and tribulations that were rained down on them by the pandemic.
In closing, Mundy returned to his theme of family in quoting from The Holy Bible.
“Exodus 20:12 says ‘Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you,’” he said. “Always remember family is the most important thing and we need to harness that and embrace all the moments we have with them.”
Finally, a request to his classmates in the same regard.
“Make sure tonight you tell all of them how much you love them,” said Mundy.
Bever made reference to the journey traveled by all involved in the process of making the evening’s events a reality – first toward his staff.
“The past 15 months have changed how we approach education,” he said. “It’s been a time of transition, but it’s wonderful to finally be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Then, it was time for praise of those who had succeeded despite the upheaval all around them.
“Whether you were goal-driven or parent-driven, you showed the ability to adapt to change,” said Bever. “But, the attitude you carry forward will have more of an impact on you than anything you’ve learned.”
Bever added some words of wisdom of his own to the cap-and-gown-donned group before him.
“Three rules,” he said. “Number one, trust your instincts, number two, stay true to yourself and your core values and never try to be something you’re not, and number three, wake up ready to be happy every day.”
Finally, Bever had some words for the parents, as well as their children.
“I know this may be a bittersweet milestone for you, but these young adults have you to thank for all this,” he said. “As for you seniors, make sure you show appreciation for all the sacrifices they’ve made for you.”