The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way school districts finished the 2019-2020 academic year. Graduations will be held virtually and in person. Prior to graduation area school districts announced their top graduating seniors.
Taylor High School
The valedictorian and salutatorian for Taylor High School (THS) are Jennifer Parris and Kaitlyn Finney.
Paris is the daughter of James and Jackie Paris. While at THS Paris was involved in Science Bowl, Interact Club and FFA. She also played cross country and ran track. Paris also volunteered in the community.
She said her biggest accomplishment was starting the Science Bowl team.
“With the sponsorship of Mrs. Sellers, I started a Science Bowl team from the ground up – completely new for Taylor – and we went to competition in February,” she said.
She couldn’t choose one single favorite memory but said lunchtime with her friends in high school was always entertaining and the high point of her day.
For younger students, she suggests trying new things to gain the most from their high school experience.
“Join any club that seems interesting whether your friends do it or not,” Paris said. “Don’t be afraid to do things you’ve never done before. You may find your life’s passion.”
Paris will attend the University of Texas at Austin in the fall. She chose UT because of the diversity of the student body and faculty encompass a variety of viewpoints.
“I am eagerly looking forward to broadening my perspective on the world and discovering my place in it,” she said.
Paris plans to pursue a major in philosophy but is also considering history and education. She is interested in a wide variety of topics and will keep her mind open.
Paris said her dream job is to be President of the United States.
She said her superpower is being able to see the big picture in ways that are different from other people, and the power of procrastination.
Her life philosophy is, “Our truths aren’t based on what we alone have learned, heard or seen. We have to take into account the knowledge and wisdom of those with greater depth and breadth of experience.”
Salutatorian Finney is the daughter of Bracken and Cheryl Finney. She is involved in National Honor Society (NHS), Silver Cord, Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA) and Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). She was also played volleyball and golf and ran track and cross country.
“My biggest achievement in school was being named a Commended National Merit Scholar,” she said.
Finney couldn’t choose one specific memory but recalled her time as an athlete with her teammates.
“Some of the best times were spent with my friends and teammates during volleyball and track season,” she said. “Bus rides, practices and meets/tournaments were always so much fun.”
Finney’s advice to younger students is to work hard at what they so they are proud of themselves.
“Surround yourself with a group of good friends and make lots of memories with them rather than trying to be the most popular person,” Finney said. “Appreciate the little things you have and the people who are willing to help you. Try not to compare yourself to others too much.”
Finney will attend Texas A&M in the fall and major in Allied Health. She said the school is full of history and traditions.
“I was born an Aggie, by my parents who both graduated from Texas A&M,” she said. “My older sister, Lauren, is also currently attending school there, and I’m excited to carry on the tradition.”
Finney said her dream job is to be a registered nurse. She has an interest in emergency medicine, labor and delivery and neonatal nursing. She is eve considering going further to be a nurse anesthetist.
If she had a superpower, it would be to read other people’s minds, time travel or teleportation.
Her life philosophy is, “Let all be done in love. See the good in all things and always stay humble.”
Legacy Early College High School
The valedictorian and salutatorian are Christian Sanchez and Madison Walker.
Sanchez is the son of Maria Arias. He was the NHS vice president, student treasurer and a member of the Interact Club.
He said his biggest accomplishments were being named a National Hispanic Scholar and National Merit Commended Student.
His favorite memory was enjoying the new Legacy facility.
“I loved being able to step into our new building for the first time,” he said. “It was so nice to finally be given a real environment to learn in.”
For younger students, Sanchez said they should enjoy their time in school.
“Embrace and savor every moment that you can. Every laugh with your friends, every good grade on a test and every teachable moment,” he said. “School ends much faster than it seems.”
Sanchez will attend Texas A&M and major in Allied Health. His dream job is to be a pediatrician.
“I am fascinated by the culture present at Texas A&M,” he said. “The full ride doesn’t hurt either.”
Sanchez said his superpower would teleportation.
His life philosophy is, “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”
Salutatorian Walker is the daughter of Ben and Carrie Walker. She is a member of NHS, student council, yearbook/journalism, the chess club and the Interact club. She is also involved in reptile collecting and the homeschool band class.
She said her biggest achievement is being the salutatorian at Legacy and she is grateful for all of the people who motivated and supported her.
“I’ve worked extremely hard for the last four years to give my best effort in all of my academic endeavors,” she said. “I’ve stayed late for tutoring sessions, done any extra-credit assignment I could and received lots of support from those around me.”
Her favorite memory is her first Phoenix Games, the school wide athletic event. The friendly competition and communication between classmates intrigued Walker.
“I was homeschooled before high school, so did not know anyone in my class. Phoenix Games my freshman year was the first time I understood how connected and kind Legacy’s student body was,” she said.
Walker advises younger students to not shy from situations they are not use to.
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and step into situations that make you nervous,” she said. “A lot of the best moments of my high school career came when I stepped out of my comfort zone and stepped up to the challenges presented to me.”
Walker will attend Sul Ross State University and major in biology with an emphasis in zoology.
“I love the geographical area where Sul Ross is located (Alpine) in the midst of one of the most beautiful areas of the state,” she said. “That whole area is full of wildlife you can’t find anywhere else in the world, which makes it perfect for my field of study, biology.”
Her dream job is to work with exotic species from around the world at the Australia Zoo. Afterall, her superpower is helping the world love animals more by using her passion and talent for educating others.
Walker’s life philosophy is, “To help conserve the world’s wildlife and biodiversity by educating others.”
Thrall High School
The valedictorian for Thrall is McKenna Knapek and the salutatorian is Kaylee Brooke Jackson.
Knapek is daughter of Wesely and Kim Knapek. She played volleyball, basketball and tennis. She was also involved in student council, FCA, NHS, yearbook and marching and concert band.
She couldn’t choose between competing in the Alamodome at the State Marching Band Competition or making it to the regional finals in volleyball as her biggest achievement.
Knapek will attend Texas A&M in the fall and major in architectural engineering.
“I’ve grown up going to the campus and loving the atmosphere there,” she said. “Now I get to be a part of it myself.”
She said her superpower would be super speed.
“I like to take my time, so I’m slow getting ready. I’m slow waking up. I’m basically slow in everything,” she said.
Her life philosophy is, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
Jackson, the salutatorian, is the daughter of Larry and Priscilla Jackson. She participates in UIL science and calculation applications. She was also involved in NHS, student council, yearbook, 4H livestock showing, 4H plant identification and church choir.
Her biggest accomplishment was being the salutatorian.
“Being a leader for my classmates is a great honor and achieving a lifelong goal has shown that my hard work and dedication have paid off,” she said.
Jackson will attend Cornell University in the fall and major in animal and biomedical sciences. She came across a photo of the school’s library by accident.
“Upon learning they had a strong agricultural department and one of the best veterinary schools in the country, I knew that it was the place for me,” she said.
Jackson hopes to use her skills in the agricultural biomedical field by conducting research. Her dream job is to specialize in studying major diseases that affect animals in order to find treatments and medications to improve their health.
Her superpower would be time travel.
“I seem to always be right on time for a deadline or make it just before the bell rings,” she said. “I’m never late, yet never early. I’m always just on time.”
Her life philosophy is,” I don’t ever want to regret the chances I didn’t take because through hard work and determination, anything is possible. Several of my dreams have already been realized, and they’ve come with so much more than I could have ever hoped for.”
Granger High School
The valedictorian and salutatorian for Granger High School are William Jones and Carlos Garza.
Jones is the son of James and Irene Jones. He was member of NHS and the marching band.
His biggest achievement was all of the research essays he wrote for DC English.
Jones will attend the University of Texas in Austin to major in civil engineering with a minor in business. He was accepted into the Cockrell School of Engineering.
“I do not have much of a dream job, but rather a dream of building a house inside a mountain,” he said. “Having the civil engineering path will help.”
His superpower is the ability to do “absolutely anything.”
Jones’ life philosophy is, “I believe that people should look at everything in their lives with the same critical analysis that you do with the other things like the Bible or other sacred text. Everything can teach you a lesson if you wish to just look for it.”
Garza is the son of Adolfo Garza and Maria Torres. He played football, baseball and ran track. He is involved with NHS, NAHA, Leadership and Ambassadors and One Act Play.
His biggest achievements in school were being the president of NHS, making All-State Academics in football and baseball.
“I was given the Fighting Heart Award this year,” he said.
Garza will attend Temple College and major in health science. He chose Temple because it has a good dental school. His dream job is to be a dental hygienist.
Garza said his superpower is that he can cook.
His life philosophy is, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”