BELTON — Harker Heights High School closed out a long weekend of area graduations Sunday evening at the Bell County Expo Center with 505 students crossing the stage to become high school graduates.

Valedictorian Hamza Khan was “anxious and excited” before commencement began, he said. Procrastination played a role in his speech preparation, which he submitted only a few days before the ceremony.

The hard-working student is looking forward to relaxing this summer, now that his dedication has paid off. During high school, he earned an associate degree through the Texas Bioscience Institute, requiring a start at 5 a.m. each day.

“It validated for me that I wanted to pursue a career in science,” he said.

Khan maintained his first-place ranking throughout his four years at Harker Heights High School, but there was always that doubt of “what if,” he said.

“Today marks the end of one journey and the beginning of a new one,” Khan said during his speech. He urged his fellow classmates to be grateful for their opportunities: “Somewhere on this plant, there is a person dreaming of the life you’re living right now. Whatever you decide to do after high school, make sure you put your heart into it.”

Salutatorian Kimberly Huerta was “excited” to address her peers. Her experience on the debate team helped her develop into a skilled, confident orator. “Using our knowledge in a positive way” was the concept of her speech, she said.

It took her a while to start the writing process, she said, but after seeking advice from her teacher Philip Crosby, the words flowed smoothly.

“No matter what path (you take), you must have a goal in mind,” Huerta told her fellow students, crediting her goal of attending nursing school for spurring her hard work. “Because that goal in mind, I had a purpose behind everything I did in high school.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, praised the students’ accomplishments in a recorded address. “Hard work and persistence paid off, and it will serve you well in the years to come.”

Graduation is bittersweet, Khan remarked. As the Harker Height students prepare to move on from high school, they must say goodbye to the teachers, staff and classmates who made the experience worthwhile.

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