Sixty-eight members of the Nixon-Smiley High School Class of 2023 received their diplomas in person at Mustang Stadium on Friday, May 26, during graduation exercises.
Another two students who were not present physically — but were very much in attendance in spirit — also were awarded diplomas.
The district recognized the achievements of Anthony Rene Acuna and Gianna Sophie Jewett, both of whom passed away before they could walk the stage with their classmates. Flower arrangements placed on the front table by the podium were dedicated to their memory.
The dearly departed were very much on the minds of valedictorian Cecilia Villasana and salutatorian Jennifer Vasquez, who mentioned them in their addresses to those present.
“First and foremost, Gianna, Anthony — I'm talking to you, too,” Villasana said. “Y'all may not physically be with us right now, but your spirit surrounds us. In this beautiful moment, it will remain with us for the rest of our days. We love you dearly.”
Villasana noted that the class has “experienced so much — both together and on our own.”
“We've gained loved ones lost some and then gained others,” she said. “We've made every grade possible from zeros to a hundreds. We've had good times and bad times, wins and losses. But if there's one thing that can be said about the past, it is that you can't change it. You can only learn, heal and grow from it.
“And then you get to the present,” Villasana added. “You can do a million different things to control your own destiny. With every second that passes, your present becomes your past and your future becomes your now. Homework, parties, friends, family, sports, band, work, FFA, clothes, money, jobs, college, or 1,000 different things to think about — but there's one thing that many of us forget and that is to stop and smell the roses. By this, I mean taking a moment to appreciate where we are.”
She told her classmates that while it may not be easy, “the fruits of our effort will be worth it.”
“As all of us have proven, we are strong,” Villasana said. “We've overcome challenges, both spoken and unspoken. And the years to come are no match for the power that we all possess to take control of our lives and make them our own.”
“Our time here as the senior class of 2023 is over. High school has been one heck of an experience,” Vasquez said in her salutatory address. “We have experienced loss, hardships, and moments of joy and achievement. As a class, we experienced beautiful moments together as well as times that shaped who we are today.
“Today marks an important milestone — the start of our future. I hope that we all follow our dreams and reach our goals despite all the obstacles we may face in the future, and may we not give up when times get tough.”
Vasquez thanked her “guardian angels from heaven, who have guided me, especially my best friend Gianna, who I know is here with us today and is watching over us as we prepare to graduate tonight.”
She spoke with pride about the impact Mr. Garces had on her life when he introduced her to a pre-college program with the University of Texas at Arlington, where she spent the summer after her junior year, strengthening her academic skills.
As a result of her hard work, Vasquez will be the first in her family to go to college. She will be attending the University of North Texas on a Terry Foundation scholarship valued at $223,200, or $27,900 per semester for eight semesters.
“Thinking of a full ride scholarship sounds great, but being debt free, it is so difficult to earn. Who doesn't want a full ride scholarship? Right?” Vasquez said. “You think about it and it seems so far away and impossible.
“Well, guess what? I'm here to tell you that it is not impossible. I still cannot believe I earned a full scholarship to attend my dream school. This opportunity was made possible through years of hard work and perseverance. To those we leave behind, don't stop working or persevering, because hard work truly pays off. If you want it, work for it. Even if you don't reach your desired goal, the skills you will learn along the way will open doors to opportunities you never even imagined.”
Natalee Mendez, the fourth highest ranking senior, delivered the invocation, while Ana Vasquez, the third highest ranking senior, gave the welcome. Sebastian Ortiz, the fifth highest ranking senior, delivered the farewell.
Principal Jim Weaver presented the senior class while superintendent Jeff Van Auken and the N-SCISD board of trustees presented diplomas to the graduates.