Kilgore High School’s class of 2019 entered R.E. St. John Stadium on Friday, May 24, as high school students.

They left as graduates, diplomas in hand, ready to meet the future.

“Looking back, it seems as if time has flown by to get us here tonight,” said salutatorian Victoria Shipman as she addressed her graduating classmates and hundreds of parents, family members, faculty and friends.

Her speech to the class focused on the promise of the future and she encouraged her fellow graduates to pursue opportunities.

“This next chapter in our life is a fresh start so use it to become who you want to be. Do not let past experiences define who you can be. Make your life one that’s worth living.”

Before diplomas were awarded to 244 KHS grads, student speakers shared memories and reflections of the previous 13 years many had spent together in Kilgore ISD.

Austin Huckabee and Cole Thompson gave the class history, focusing on mostly humorous experiences that had brought the class from their first day of school to their last.

They recalled attending kindergarten at Kilgore Heights Elementary School. Graduates laughed and smiled as Huckabee and Thompson spoke about playing on the Heights’ playground and attending kindergarten graduation.

The two reminded classmates of studying for tests, memorable teachers, favorite classes and sports victories.

“Now that senior year has come and gone, seeing everyone going their separate ways is bittersweet,” Huckabee said.

“All of the relationships that we have made along the way have helped us become the people that we are today and the people that we hope to become in the future,” Thompson replied.

The two offered words of tribute, the first of several during Friday’s ceremony, to Jay Cox and Chris Ballard, members of the class of 2019 who died before they could cross the graduation stage.

Cox was injured in a car wreck in April 2017 and died of his injuries in June 2017. Ballard was killed in a car wreck in August 2018.

“So, class of 2019, we encourage you to cherish those relationships and memories that you have made. Do it for Chris and live like Jay,” Huckabee said before calling for a moment of silence for Cox and Ballard, memorialized by two chairs draped with graduation regalia and placed among their classmates.

Hernan Galvan delivered the class appreciations and Jaidyn Lewis and Shelby Thompson presented the class aspirations.

Valedictorian Carlos Muniz, who graduates with a full scholarship to Haverford College in Pennsylvania, addressed the graduates, sharing the unique experiences he overcame to reach the place of honor at the head of the class.

“I cannot express how honored I am to stand before you all tonight and deliver my final speech as a student of Kilgore High School,” Muniz began, thanking teachers and family members for the sacrifices they made for the graduates.

“This is especially true for me, since my parents abandoned their country, home, family and friends just so I could have a better education and for that, I am eternally grateful,” Muniz said as the crowd broke into applause.

The valedictorian described the hard work he had to do to reach the graduation stage. His parents moved to the United States in 2010 and, at the time, Muniz spoke no English. In just a few short years, and with plenty of hard work, he improved his English skills and began excelling in his classes.

During his address, Muniz spoke to his parents from the podium, speaking in Spanish so they could understand. He thanked them for all the sacrifices they made so he could have the best education possible.

Muniz described the work he put in to learn a new language, studying English when most kids his age played video games, and described a proverb which likened learning a new language to having another window through which to view the world. He asked his classmates to “create windows” in their own lives by pursuing new experiences and accepting opportunities.

“I wish all of you the best of luck on all future endeavors,” he told his classmates.

KHS Principal Charles Presley then certified the graduates and the students crossed the stage to accept their diplomas, pausing to applaud when Ballard and Cox’s names were called.

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