More than 400 Lufkin High School students took their final steps as seniors this week in the Tom Jack Lucas Auditorium in front of a few friends and family and a camera.

The district said the full ceremony should be posted on Monday.

Garin Ashby, president of the senior class and salutatorian, welcomed everyone to the ceremony on Wednesday, and led the smattering of friends, family and teachers in attendance in the pledges as the camera was rolling.

Lizbeth Gonzalez-Andres, vice president of the senior class, led the audience in an invocation, being thankful for the blessings they all share and asking for blessings on the commencement and through their quest for truth and enlightenment.

Garin’s salutatorian speech congratulated his fellow students for their accomplishment and their hard work over the years, commemorating the things they will never do or see again and looking forward to the things to come.

“Class of 2020, we really are a class of survivors,” Garin said. “Nothing has managed to stop us. Not a global pandemic, not killer clowns, not TikTok dancing, not crazy social media challenges and not even the annoying bell between classes. Looking back, we have been able to brace some of the most daunting challenges Lufkin High School has ever faced. … The fact that we have reached this milestone is a testament to, not only our mindset of success, but also to our strength.”

While admitting that he could not possibly know what is in store for his fellow graduates, Garin read a quote from Abraham Lincoln he hoped his classmates would take to heart: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

“I don’t know about you, but I believe that,” he said. “When I think about the talent in this graduating class, I truly feel we have so much to offer the world. I have absolutely no doubt that our future success will be limited only by our lack of imagination and work ethic. So, my friends, when you dream, dream big. And when you fail, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and try again. Most successful people attribute their success to how they responded to failure and adversity.”

Valedictorian Logan Armstrong’s speech carried with it that same sense of humor and hope.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of times that I’ve asked to stay home from school throughout my education,” Logan said. “I guess the saying is true that ‘you have to be careful what you wish for.’ Never could I have imagined what was in store for this group of seniors and me in the spring of 2020. I stand here before you during a time of a national pandemic in which we can’t attend school and are ‘socially distanced’ from one another due to the coronavirus. This time period will forever be ingrained in our minds.”

The class of 2020 was born near the time of 9/11, a similarly history-altering event, but with love and guidance from God, they will adapt and persevere this challenge just like the one at their birth, she said.

“People often say how they hate that this group of seniors has missed out on so much,” she said. “However, I like to view this time of change as an opportunity to change my perspective to experience new interests. Although I have had to miss out on my last tennis and cheer seasons, prom and various other events, I have also been able to get back to a healthy sleep schedule, spend more quality time with my family, I am not constantly rushing around and have learned to be thankful for what I took for granted before corona.”

While the class of 2020 is about to enter into another time of uncertainty — college and careers — there are certain things in life that can be depended on to remain constant: family, close friends and God, she said.

“If I have learned anything from being in high school, it’s that we should cherish these relationships because, without them, we would not be who we are today,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved all the celebrations and attention for being valedictorian, but the one thing I regret are the many relationships I sacrificed to get to this point. I was so focused on school that I lost sight of the importance of the people in my life.

“Although it is essential to work hard and stay dedicated throughout high school, never let your education get in the way of the people who care about you most. Because at the end of the day, whether you graduate top of your class or not, your close relationships and your relationship with God are the things you can always hold on to, and they will get you through life.”

The coronavirus pandemic put a wrench in many seniors’ last year experiences. Lizbeth said she doesn’t think the hybrid ceremony was what anyone wanted to happen, but it’s what they have and she is grateful for the opportunity to walk the stage.

“I’m really nervous but really happy,” Lizbeth said. “I’ve been counting down to this and it’s kind of momentous that it’s actually happening.”

Other seniors preparing to walk the stage seemed to feel the same.

“I’m glad we could do it the way we are doing it. It’s better than nothing,” senior Kimberly Lopez said. “The virus took away a lot of things we were looking forward to. We still had hope until they actually said it was going to be canceled. We tried to fix it by doing a protest and signing a petition for a traditional ceremony. We tried our best, but it didn’t work out.”

Kimberly wanted younger classmates to know that they should enjoy high school while they can because “that day that you’re throwing paper airplanes and laughing with your classmates might be the last day and you don’t even know it.”

Grace Juarez’s email address is grace.juarez@lufkindailynews.com.

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