DIBOLL — Lumberjack Stadium was full of proud parents, teachers, family and community members as the Diboll High School class of 2020 walked the stage on a cool Friday evening.
In many ways, this ceremony was like no other. It was the first outdoor, in-person, non drive-thru ceremony in the county this year, and the first group of DHS students to go through a global pandemic.
However, it was similar to other graduations. Students laughed and chatted among themselves while waiting on their turn to stand and take their seats. The teachers and staff walked around the field, reminding students of last-minute rules and cracking jokes. Families filled the stands, anxious to cheer their graduates on and sneak that rogue forbidden fruit of an airhorn’s squeal.
Principal John Clements welcomed everyone to the school’s 98th commencement ceremony and took a moment to honor those students who have chosen to serve their country in a branch of the U.S. military.
Clements said he based the high school’s motto off of the district’s mission, but this year, he wanted to add an additional sentence: That our students and community have the discipline to overcome any obstacle that may try to get in our way.
“COVID-19 cannot stop the discipline and determination of our students, parents, administration, teachers, staff, community and board members. It didn’t stop us tonight, and it will never stop you,” he said.
Lindsey Damien gave the invocation, thanking God for allowing them to gather under the circumstances and asking for his guidance for every student’s future.
Salutatorian Justice Ferguson then spoke, giving a comedic, lighthearted address about his classmates, their crazy year and their impact on the world.
He credited the class of 2020 for being one of the greatest, if not the greatest, class in Diboll High School history for its incredible academic rate, athletic accomplishments and even its level of hype during pep rallies.
“Our class has always had the spirit of a Lumberjack,” Justice said. “Whether it’s right here on Lumberjack Drive or on Shaw sheet — We. Stay. Lit.”
He commiserated with his classmates about the losses they faced this year because of COVID-19, and he encouraged them to arise stronger.
“It’s too easy to focus on the negatives,” he said. “It’s too easy to point blame and be angry at this sad situation. But I believe it is only in our best interest to focus on all the great times we’ve had here at Diboll High School.
“Though it’s true that we shall all go our separate ways, making the most out of life using lessons we learned right here, I beg you classmates to not forget where it all began. Look to your left and your right. If I’m being honest you may never see them again, but I implore you. Show love. A Lumberjack should always help a Lumberjack in need because the class of 2020 is truly a family. It’s amazing the love we have for one another. Never forget that.”
Valedictorian Hayden McLeroy’s speech carried with it a similar appreciation for the moments every classmate had shared on the high school campus. He thanked the many people who played a role in guiding himself and the class of 2020 to where they are today.
He acknowledged the strangeness of the situation that led to their separation and said he wouldn’t change a single memory they shared together.
“Even the most bizarre, irrelevant and overlooked memories, I will carry with me to my grave,” Hayden said. “I can remember going to football games on Friday nights when we were in elementary, and I would always beg my parents to let me go run around with all of my classmates and friends, and to be honest, that’s what I remember about Friday nights as a kid, being with my friends, having fun. At the time, it didn’t occur to me that one day, I would stand on the very same football field and play a game that I love with such passion alongside people who I would call my brothers.”
He spoke of how the memories with the most emotional impact were the ones they would carry forever and how in the long run, high school isn’t all about classes and lessons or pencils and papers but rather subtle, emotional moments that seemed unremarkable at the time — from moments when the entire class was laughing and arguments shared around the lunch table, to sitting next to a crush, trying not to be too obvious, or going home to play video games and ignore homework.
“Now, I could go on and on, but we each individually know which memories we hold dear to our hearts, and we know that those memories are and forever will be, timeless,” Hayden said. “And now, my farewell to each of you, classmates:
“Go through life not with a hard heart or a greedy hand, but go through with a dedicated mentality, a generous soul and a big smile. Don’t let the vices of the past or poor choices drag you down because every day is a new day with a new beginning. But don’t live as though you’ll make it to tomorrow because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.”
He closed with a quote from Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”
This year’s speaker was Tamara Harrell, a 1999 Diboll graduate. Harrell has numerous degrees to her name and currently works in school administration in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.
Harrell’s speech covered a number of different life lessons she has learned and willingly passed on to the graduating seniors including the importance of gratitude and attitude.
“I’m sure we could look around and name the fastest or the smartest, the most popular or maybe even the person with the highest number of followers, but I’ve come to know that success is not defined by how much money you make. It’s not defined by your past. It’s not defined by your hardships or even what you had to do to get here,” she said. “Instead, the most successful and smartest person in the room is the hard worker. The person with the positive attitude and a willing heart.
“Whatever this life brings, class of 2020, whether it’s college or university or a skill or a trade, commit yourself to being the very best you can be. Every day of your life, figure out how to have a positive perspective. Have an attitude that attracts positive people, an attitude that sees the positive in a negative situation. In other words, if I’m honest, life is not always easy. Challenges will come your way. But it’s all in your attitude and perspective.”