Hillcrest High Seniors Celebrate Their Resilience

Right before Cynthia Olvera started her freshman year at Hillcrest High School, she made a bet with her brother.

“My brother made a bet with me – if I ranked higher than him, he would owe me $100,” the salutatorian said at her school’s graduation ceremony Saturday. “So it is safe to say that I will now be acquiring my money after this speech is done.”

In the last group of high schools to hold virtual commencement exercises, Hillcrest High School pulled out all the (remote) stops – including a performance of “Pomp and Circumstance” by their own band.

Principal Joseph Sotelo said 97% of the class completed the Dallas County Promise program, and the class earned more than $3 million in scholarships. Out of the almost 800 college applications sent out, there was a 95% acceptance rate.

The seniors were also the school’s first cohort of International Baccalaureate students to graduate, he said.

Sotelo – and others who spoke – acknowledged that this was not the graduation anyone had anticipated last August.

“So much was taken from you that cannot be taken back,”  he said, “and for that, every adult in your life has felt your anguish.

“I know that you will not let the losses of your senior year define you, because COVID-19 will not define you,” he added. “You will be the author of your life.”

A highlight reel featured well-wishes from local luminaries that included Pat and Emmitt Smith, Mayor Eric Johnson, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, WFAA anchor Cynthia Izaguirre, as well as a welcome from district superintendent Michael Hinojosa.

“Today is your day, although it looks and feels differently than what you expected and deserve. The entire community shares your disappointment at having to minimize this year’s celebrations,” Hinojosa said.

Olvera cited an Abigail Adams quote in her speech that she felt perfectly represented the senior class.

“The habits of a vigorous mind are born in contending with difficulties,” she said. “The class of 2020 had to handle one of the biggest Hillcrest traditions being taken away – not being able to go swimming, or paint the bleachers on retreat day, and even handle the last two years of the ongoing construction at Hillcrest.

“We didn’t get to experience a prom, or the graduation we always dreamed of, but instead of talking about how upsetting that was, I want to remind everyone how resilient our class has been.”

Valedictorian Elnor Solomon echoed Olvera but also said she felt a lot of gratitude.

“I, along with the other 7 billion people in the world, know that this is not how we anticipated our year ending up,” she said. “This speech has been in the back of  my mind for the last three years, and all the different variations of how I practiced this in my head, the last thought in my mind was that I’d be giving it through a screen amidst a worldwide pandemic.”

Solomon acknowledged that the faculty and the community worked together to make sure that the seniors still felt celebrated as their year was cut short. Many parents banded together to form a Sign-Up Genius campaign that allowed community members to “adopt a senior,” pledging to purchase a care package for a senior, and teachers and staff organized a celebration the day the class picked up their caps and gowns.

“You worked so hard this past year, and especially this past month, to make our senior year as memorable as possible,” said Solomon.

To view the ceremony in its entirety, see below.

Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital 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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