Eager families and friends beamed with excitement as their students, dressed in powder blue and white caps and gowns, entered the Charlene Powers Lange Theatre at Hutchins Street Square on Thursday morning for the Liberty High School graduation.
“Pomp and Circumstance” played over the speakers as students walked towards the stage. Cheers erupted from the audience as family members witnessed their student take the stage.
For many students at Liberty High, the prospect of attending their graduation once seemed out of reach, as many students attend Liberty as a last chance at receiving a high school diploma.
“Many of the students that come here are the sons and daughters of single parents, drug addicts, or have a parent that is incarcerated. We also have students that come here because they are failing academically because they are helping ailing parents, working to make ends meet,” Liberty High School Principal Tami Dillon said.
As Dillon spoke she recognized the importance of Liberty High and the opportunity it offers to students that have ended up at the school because of their expertise in procrastination, or because of the adversity they have faced.
“I am the first person students meet when they enroll at Liberty High School, and I see faces that look defeated, tired and exhausted. Many students are at risk of not graduating and Liberty High is their last hope,” Dillon said.
Despite whatever circumstances bring students to Liberty, once they are there they are given all the tools and support to achieve academic success.
“Liberty High is a place where your education happens in your mind and in your heart,” Dillon said.
Due to the smaller classes sizes, the students and faculty at Liberty High are able to forge a familial bond, allowing students to lean on each other as they pursue graduation.
“Class of 2019 you are not defeated students, you are champions,” Dillon said, which prompted a round of applause from the crowd.
For student for speaker Amy Arvizu, her own journey at Liberty High started with an overwhelming glance at her seven-class schedule. She expressed how intimidated she felt at first, and how quickly she was able to move beyond her fears with the help of her classmates and teachers.
“Teachers at Liberty put so much into their students to help them do well, and they remind us to keep our heads up no matter what,” Arvizu said.
Arvizu expressed how grateful she was to have teachers so involved and invested in their students’ success.
As she recognized the colorful backgrounds that each student brings to the Liberty High family she reminded her fellow students of their strength and resilience.
“You are the only person who says what happens in your life. We have all struggled and fought to get here, but we’re here,” Arvizu said.
For Arvizu, being on stage and receiving her diploma made her proud, because she saw the joy it brought to her family.
Arvizu expressed her excitement at what the future would bring for the class of graduates and left her fellow students with advice from former Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
“You must have the courage to follow your heart and intuition,” Arvizu said before congratulating her fellow graduates.
Following her speech was a musical performance led by student Pedro Pineda, who composed an original song that he performed in Spanish alongside his bandmates Pedro Soto and Able Soto.
Before staff handed out diplomas, Kendale Kelley addressed the students with the final speech of the morning.
“There are not a lot of us here at Liberty High School, we don’t have a large gymnasium or cafeteria, but that has allowed us to get close,” Kelley said.
Kelley attended Liberty High after falling behind in school while traveling abroad in Africa.
“I didn’t think I was going to graduate on time, I thought I was going to be here another year,” Kelley said. “But after time passed and with the help of teachers and support of classmates I reached the goal I made for myself.”
Before leaving the podium Kelley reminded his classmates that graduation is not the end, but the beginning.
As the graduates accepted their diplomas, cheers of congratulations echoed throughout the theatre.
And as the graduates of Liberty made their way out of the theatre towards the sunlit lawn, Queen’s “We Are The Champions,” played.