W.T. White Valedictorian: ‘This Pandemic Will End, That’s a Guarantee’

When the more than 400 students in the class of 2020 at W.T. White were feted with a virtual ceremony Friday evening, their valedictorian encouraged them to stay motivated – even though their senior year plans ended somewhat abruptly in March when the COVID-19 pandemic spurred school closures all over the country.

“You didn’t get the senior year that you deserved … but please listen: This pandemic will end, that’s a guarantee,” Joshua Kennedy Davis told his classmates. “What’s not guaranteed is the survival of your ambition, your motivation, and your fiery dreams.”

It was a theme that ran through the school’s virtual celebration – the pride of Longhorn traditions and the assurances that the lessons learned there would serve the graduates well in the future.

“Despite the circumstances, you all deserve to be celebrated in this time-honored tradition,” said principal Elena Bates in her final commencement at W.T. White. Next year, she will be working at district headquarters, and Holly Walker will take over, coming from her current position as principal at E.D. Walker Middle School, which is a feeder school for White.

“W.T. White High School is rich in tradition and pride,” Bates said, adding that the graduating class had earned more than $9 million in scholarships and awards. “Although we are not able to celebrate with the 433 of you tonight, we are still able to share what we have overcome and share in the celebration of longhorn spirit that will not be overshadowed by this pandemic.

Sophia Marie Banowsky

Salutatorian Sophia Marie Banowsky recounted all the things she and her classmates learned during their 13 years of schooling so far, but said the biggest lesson was one they knew they’d use repeatedly.

“The lesson we’ve all been taught is self-discipline – and the lesson of self-discipline does not end here,” she said. “We will continue to gain knowledge and experiences, learn lessons and face tests that determine what kind of adults we will become.

“Although today may not be what we expected, everything we know and everything we are is about to change – hopefully for the better.”

The class is also celebrating the continued recovery of Ronald Cruz, who was discharged from the hospital last week after spending weeks in the hospital – some of them in ICU – after he became very ill with what has been suspected as being COVID-19.

Cruz graduated tonight, too.

Davis said that staying motivated during all the turmoil was difficult for his classmates – and for himself.

“Yes, we graduated whilst our world is being ripped by a pandemic, and yes, we’ve been robbed of sports, prom, celebrations, and our way of life,” he said. “Yes, our final year subsided with a whimper instead of a bang, and because of that, many of you – including me – are losing our grasp on what pushes us forward.”

But Davis cautioned his classmates that “this virus has already robbed you of too much,” and urged them to stay motivated.

“Don’t let these current circumstances smother your motivation. Don’t let the lost opportunities of the past, and the shortfallings of the present, consume you.”

“Kindle the fire that burns within you, and grow it like your life depends on it.”

See the entire graduation ceremony below.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, deputy 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 bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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