As West Rusk’s Class of 2019 stood in Raider Café, May 31, lined in single file and prepared to march into Bradshaw Stadium, Principal Jake Jackson congratulated his seniors.

“You worked hard for 13 years for this day, and you’ve earned it,” he reminded.

It was a landmark evening, too. The 109 graduates that Friday are the largest class in West Rusk’s 54-year history. Before the seniors departed Raider Café, West Rusk Police Chief Paul Thompson said a prayer for all. Within minutes the line of powder-blue gowns walked into the football stadium, the traditional site for West Rusk commencements. Parents, siblings, relatives and friends of the seniors sat on the home bleachers.

Senior Sydnee Martin gave the opening invocation. Principal Jackson welcomed everyone to the ceremony prior to introducing the 24 Honor Graduates. They were Martin, Ashley Alejandro, Tristan Banton, Jennifer Bazaldua, Allison Bobbitt, Jonathan Cruz, Jessica Decco, Bailey Ford, Haylee Garrett, Catalina Johnston, Imelda Jose, Ana Luna, Diego Luna-Zuniga, Roberto Marmolejo, Mark Mata, Diego Molina, Makana Morton, Reed Norman, Ryan Oliver, Aide Rocha, Abigail Rodriguez, Dominic Sanchez, Robert Starling and Elyana Williams.

Banton, class salutatorian, opened her speech with humor.

“I have both good news and bad news. The bad news is we couldn’t get Matthew McConaughey for graduation. The good news is I’m terrified to be in front of you right now so I’ll keep this brief.”

Banton appreciated “Everyone who made it out here tonight to support this class. Families, friends, faculty, staff, all of the people…it is truly a blessing to each one of us to have the support tonight of those who made all of this possible. Not only were these past 13 years challenging for us students, but it was nothing less for each of you. So, for your sacrifices, your wisdom shared, your help provided and for being here [at] the end of our high school years, thank you all very much.”

Then she directed attention to her peers.

“I would like to encourage you to take pride in being the good people that you are. Take charge into the world knowing you are the best version of you that you can be. When you are all out there chasing your dreams and living the best life you can, don’t forget to find strength in your character and pride in your roots. After all, our roots are West Rusk. And West Rusk is where the best just got better.”

Banton’s plans are studying social work at Kilgore College, with an emphasis on children and family.

Valedictorian Bobbitt showed her gratitude to “All the teachers, administrators and staff. Not only high school, but junior high and elementary, too. For giving us the opportunity to be here celebrating tonight. There are so many people that I want to thank for being here along this incredible journey. I also want to thank all my friends, my athletic family, band family [and] pom family. Lastly, I want to thank my mom and dad and the rest of my family for their never-ending love and support. I could not be standing here today of it weren’t for these people.”

Classroom memories Bobbitt shared were of a tennis court cheese-touch incident, Valentine’s dances, a band trip to Disney World, weekend dual credit classes, hallway relay races, powder puff football and setting the rain-soaked softball field afire to dry the grounds so the team can play a game.

“And that one time when we all dressed up for senior pictures and then the photographers didn’t show.”

“Overall,” Bobbitt summed, “We have made so many memories with our large class. We are not only strong in size but in heart. We have faced many losses and challenges along the way, but they have allowed us to grow and even shape us into what we are today.”

She quoted Joshua 1:9. “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

“The truth is, life is too short. We can’t spend our lives worrying and being fearful. So I challenge you, Class of 2019, to go and make the best of your life, and no matter what you end up doing, leave your worries behind and know God will be with you always.”

Bobbitt wants to earn a business degree at Texas A&M.

One by one, Jackson called the senior’s name and West Rusk Trustees presented sheepskins and shook each graduate’s hand.

Other accomplishments earned by the Raiders were National Honor Society (21 students), Distinguished Student (76), Four-Year Athletics (23), Four-Year Band ((23), Four-Year Cheerleader (one), Four-Year Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (two), Four-Year Future Farmers of America (four), Four-Year Pom (one), Four-Year Twirl (one) and Carter Blood Donor (35).

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