It is time to stop living history and start leading it, Cleburne High School Principal Ben Renner told graduates on Thursday night.

“Go out into this world and pursue your dreams, conquer your goals,” he said. “Just know that while you’re out blazing trails and leading the industry, back at Cleburne High School, our hearts swell with pride at your success and you will always be a Yellow Jacket.”

Many of the speeches during Thursday’s commencement exercises centered around the challenges the Class of 2021, faculty and staff faced because of the pandemic.

“Class of 2021, I am so thankful for the year we’ve had,” Salutatorian Carson Harris said. “After such an unprecedented time, we were so fortunate to have our last prom, unite as the best baseball student section in the state of Texas and wrap it all up by walking across the stage here, at this magnificent venue with all of our friends and family here in attendance.”

Renner took his time on stage to thank the CHS faculty and staff for going the extra mile this year as they worked their way through the pandemic.

“You were asked to present lessons in multiple formats to reach the needs of our face-to-face learners, as well as our distance learners,” he said. “You always had to be ready at the drop of a hat to become a quarantine teacher, to prepare your lessons from your dining room table via Zoom to a room full of kids. 

“I could see the exhaustion in your eyes and the weariness in your steps but your heart for your students never stopped beating and together we made it through to the other side. So teachers, faculty and staff of CHS thank you for being the best there is and for laying it all on the line this year.”

Renner also congratulated the graduates on making it through the challenges and trials of the year, which he said were softened by the joy he was given to work with them.

“While I was thinking about the theme of this message, my mind would go back to the message of last year. I focused on the challenges of 2020, which became the challenges of 2021,” he said. “Like the class of 2020, you lost your classrooms, your competitions, your celebrations. Like them you have been living history. Both classes were deprived of many rights of passage, but you were the class that came back. 

“Whether you were face-to-face, remote or hybrid, you were among the first to go back to school in this nation. We had the added burdens of face masks, social distancing, desk cleaning, hand washing and canvas. 

“Y’all aced it. You showed the world that kids belong in school. With schools open you then moved back to taking on your competitions and performances. 

“Still, you negotiated with me constantly for more. It was not enough just to be back. You found new and creative ways to take back celebrations, pep rallies, banquets and STinG Week. 

“Now I know many of you are nervous about your future. You are both enthusiastic and filled with anxiety. You’re going to be OK. The challenges you faced over the past two years have you prepared to face anything, any obstacle the future may bring.”

STinG Week — Students Together in Giving — is a week-long charity fundraising event that has taken place at the high school the past five year.

“This year we were limited on what we could do but we still achieved one major accomplishment along the way, including our annual STinG Week,” Student Body President Madison Sepulveda said. “With the help of many students and organizations, we were able to raise a grand total of $16,000 for our very own.”

With the money raised, the student who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2020 was able to start new alternative chemo treatment that insurance could not cover.

“As a class we raised so much money over our four years for our fellow students,” Harris said. “The difference we made is truly one of our best accomplishments.”

Leading the class of 396 graduates was valedictorian Brenda Zamora-Chavez, the first to graduate in her family.

“Today I graduate, not for me, but for my parents, your parents, our ancestors and those who will arrive in the future and those who couldn’t be here with us today,” she said. “The hard-working immigrants who came with nothing but the clothes on their backs and have given us everything, from the fruit we eat to the buildings we call home to this very own stadium we are at in order to achieve the American dream.”

Being Mexican, a woman, low-income and a first-generation student has brought many tears, she said. 

“Many times I’ve doubted myself,” she said. “I’ve even complemented life. Even when I didn’t want to continue, I never gave up. I fought through obstacles that wanted to bring me down. 

“For all of us the journey to graduation has been difficult and although I might not know what you’re going through or what you have been through, I know that we are here tonight and to that I say, ‘Congratulations to the Class of 2021.’ In spite of the fact that my life hasn’t been easy, I’ve made sure to use my voice and stand up for what I believe in.

“To my fellow graduates, we must look above our differences that separate us and lead with compassion and understanding to others. Our generation is the future of the world and together we have the power in enact change.”

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