BELTON — Grateful for the opportunities of high school and ready for a new challenge, 583 Harker Heights High School seniors stepped across the Bell County Expo Center stage Sunday to adulthood, responsibility and an unknown destiny.

During the commencement exercises, student speakers gave emotional testimony of family and friends who gave them courage and inspired them through childhood and high school.

Class of 2018 Senior Class President Jana Almughawish thanked her parents for leaving their home country of Syria “to live the American dream” and to give their children a better life.

“My parents left everything so my sisters and I could succeed in life,” she said, tearing up on stage. “I’m grateful for your sacrifices.”

While destiny brought the students together for high school, the class president said destiny would send out the graduates to parts unknown.

Salutatorian Sonia Lopez also grew emotional talking about family and friends who gave her courage to try new challenges, leading to success and the second-ranked position in the huge graduating class.

She said she took regular classes her freshman year, but friends urged her to take more difficult Advanced Placement courses and to join the Texas Bioscience Institute program, pushing her to higher performance and her high rank.

“One piece of advice I’ll give is have courage,” she said. “Thanks to my family and friends, I decided to challenge myself and now I’m here speaking to you.”

During high school, Lopez also joined the swim team despite a fear of the water and participated in theater, overcoming a fear of public speaking. “Fears limit your opportunities,” she said. “Courage gives you the upper hand in life. Have courage to face your fears.”

Valedictorian Jennifer Lee urged her classmates to take advantage of their limited time to do great things, pointing out that life goes by quickly and is not guaranteed to anyone.

“My theme is to not to waste time,” Lee said, explaining her speech prior to the ceremony. “It’s easy to think you have a long time at 18 years of age, but our time is now.”

“I want to encourage them to get out of their comfort zone and take risks,” said Lopez, who was headed to the University of Texas orientation Monday, the day after graduation. “It’s nice to see everyone here,” she said, “but now it’s time to say goodbye.”

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