For the First Time, And the Last Time

The graduation ceremony for Hillcrest High School started with a poignant — and a little startling — pronouncement by principal Joseph Sotello.

“Before we get started, I just want to say, that due to COVID, this is literally the first time this class of 2021 has ever sat together at one time,” he said.

After a round of applause, Sotello congratulated the class for their accomplishments.

“Collectively you have overcome a campus that was under construction, a tornado that left the school untouched but no doubt touched the lives of you or your loved ones, a globally pandemic, and — just in case you weren’t tested enough — we ended the senior year with Icemageddon,” he said, adding that the challenges were “only half the story” because while all of that was going on, they were still performing as “regular high school seniors” taking part in classes, activities, sports, and other extracurriculars.

The challenges, he said, only strengthened them.

“Think about how far we’ve come in a year,” said salutatorian Ryan Berman. “Last year at this time, the senior class did not have the opportunity to participate in their graduation in person.

“It is really special — and exciting — that we are all able to be here together in one physical space.”

Valedictorian Ryan Prager

Valedictorian Ryan Prager said he and his classmates “are here in our cap and gowns today … because we put in hard work under extraordinary circumstances.”

“For more than two years of our time at Hillcrest we navigated a construction site of a school,” he said. “We walked the halls with fellow classmates, teachers, and all kinds of people saying, ‘Oh you went to school with the 25-year-old.’

“We overcame a tornado that went through our beautiful neighborhood and shut down school for a week, a snowstorm that caused mass power outages across Dallas, and — of course — the COVID-19 pandemic,” he continued. “Our ability to persevere through these obstacles shows we must be one of the most resilient classes that Hillcrest has ever had.”

School board trustee Dustin Marshall also commended the graduates for their perseverence this year.

“You had to turn on a dime … but you’ve learned something about yourselves along the way – that you have the tenacity, the drive, the resilience to achieve your goals, despite change or setbacks,” he said. “And that lesson will last you a lifetime.”

To see the ceremony in its entirety, click here.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at [email protected].

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