Dylan Cunningham, vice president of the Glen Rose High School Class of 2017, may have summed up what many of his fellow graduating seniors were feeling.
“High school was when my friends became my family,” Cunningham said while giving his speech for the two-hour commencement ceremony last Friday night at the GRHS Auditorium.
Just over 100 graduates received their diplomas from members of the GRISD Board of Trustees before walking out with a chance to see the outside world with a new perspective as young adults.
The night’s most touching and emotional moment was when 97-year-old Houston Edward Lowe received his diploma.
Had Lowe not quit school to go to work after the death of his father — and later joined the Army and suffered through a time in a Japanese prison camp — he would have been on track to graduate from GRHS in 1936.
Lowe’s family made arrangements with Superintendent Wayne Rotan to include him in the ceremony. They brought him from his home in San Antonio, and he received his diploma from GRISD Board President Kelley Snodgrass.
Lowe’s three daughters brought him to Glen Rose under the ruse that they were returning to visit his old stomping grounds — knowing that he might object to being the center of attention on stage.
Texas law allows for military veterans who served in time of war to be eligible to receive a high school diploma under certain circumstances.
Rotan introduced 83-year-old “Little” Jack Bridges Jr., this year’s GRISD Tiger’s Eye Award winner. The annual award goes to a graduate who has demonstrated continuous support to the students of GRHS.
The Glen Rose native is GRHS graduate and longtime business owner who served in the Army and is a member of the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.
Bridges majored in Business Administration at Texas Christian University, where he graduated in 1955. In 1956 he was drafted into the Army, and served two years in Germany.
The presentation to Bridges was followed by the GRHS Choir performing “You Raise Me Up,” a song made famous by singer Josh Groban.
An entertaining video with candid and sometimes humorous comments by seniors was then played, with many of them taking the opportunity to thank teachers, family members and friends for helping get them through school.
The night was also filled with good-natured fun — such as one moment in the speech of Salutatorian Matt Willis, whose 102.822 weighted grade-point average was second only to Valedictorian Cassi Niedziela’s 105.825.
Willis brought out a laugh from the crowd when he jokingly reflected that he had “put in long hours of work, to fall just short.”
Willis also got serious, offering advice to his departing classmates.
“Surround yourself with positive people that inspire you, motivate you and challenge you,” said Willis, who is going to attend Trinity University in San Antonio, where he also plans to play football.
Brittany Rosentreter was the third-ranking student in the class, followed by Kaley Shaw, Seth Love, Sophie Bozarth, Wendy Lin, Hannah Andrews, Joel Sims and Cameron Rush.
Niedziela’s speech was one of hope — not just for successful futures, but futures built on love and understanding when it comes to people they meet in life.
“We have been privileged enough to have grown up in a country that allows us to be be whatever we want to be, and in this world where we can be anything we want to be, I hope we all choose to be kind,” said Niedziela, who was the class president and will be attending New York University. “I hope we choose kindness and compassion above all else because how we make people feel is what will be remembered.”
She added, “To be human is a very profound thing, and our emotions and ability to convey those sentiments constitute our humanity.”
Niedziela challenged her classmates “to change the world by spreading positivity one small step at a time. We need innovators and inventors and big-thinkers, but we also need compassionate and genuine individuals.”
GRHS Principal Kelly Shackelford told the seniors that even though the 2016-2017 was his first in Glen Rose, he was impressed by what he saw.
Shackelford said one thing that stood out about the class as a whole was that they “didn’t make excuses.”
He encouraged them to continue doing three key things as they go through life — show respect for others, make time for those who love them and work hard for excellence.
“There’s no such thing as entitlement,” Shackelford said. “The world doesn’t owe you anything.”
In addition to the top 10 students scholastically, named above, other Honor Graduates — “Gold Cord” graduates with an average of 90 or above — were: Guadalupe Arcibar, Adrian Barraza, Elizabeth Boyd, Rachel Buren, Hayes Burney, Emileigh Cantwell, Alan Corral, Bari Douglas, Kelsey Elliott, Jaylan Evans, Juvia Flores, Lauren Forkner, Lucinda Garcia, Scott Gossett, Jose Guia Garza, Ethan Hartman, Landen Ibarra, Michaela Johnson, Sydney Kickhoefer, WenQing Lin, Shay Osowski, Brazos Overton, McKully Reynolds, Eric Sanchez, Jordan Stone, Brittany Watson, Yuri White and Cordel Whitefield.