One after another, each of the five Killeen ISD distinguished alumni stepped to the podium, thanked friends, family and teachers and then turned to the right to give encouragement to those following in their footsteps.
The Killeen ISD Education Foundation, with its Alumni Association, Central Texas College and numerous partners celebrated the past while honoring the future Thursday during the 14th Student Scholarship Reception and Distinguished Alumni Awards event at CTC’s Anderson Campus Center.
This year’s Distinguished Alumni include Robert Bass, Dr. Rex Hanger, Dr. Truell Hyde II, Capt. Erik Pittman and Jason Pittman.
Prior to honoring the alumni, the school district, foundation and community donors introduced 53 high school seniors set to graduate from high school – some of tomorrow’s distinguished alumni.
The Education Foundation partners awarded $67,400 in scholarships during the alumni event and will give away more in May during the Starmakers Banquet for a total of $83,000 in scholarships this year, the most ever since the alumni association formed in 2003 and awarded a single $250 scholarship.
Robert Bass, operator of R.K. Bass Electric, Inc. took electrical trade classes at Killeen High School where he graduated in 1976. He is a strong supporter of advancing his employees’ careers through conferences and apprenticeships and has established numerous scholarships at CTC and the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. He and his wife Cheryl have three sons and 11 grandchildren.
Dr. Rex Hanger, a graduate of Ellison High School’s first class in 1979, teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in the fields of geology and paleontology. He has published numerous research papers with special interest in ancient marine invertebrate fossils.
Dr. Truell Hyde, II, a 1974 Killeen High School graduate, is Director of the Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research at Baylor University. The former Roos Band horn player and All-State Band member still plays his instrument and serves on the Waco Symphony Board. He and his wife Carliss have one daughter.
Capt. Erik Pittman, a National Merit Scholar and Killeen High School valedictorian of the Class of 1991, is Deputy Director of Command, Control, Communications and Cyber at the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. He has 25 years of service in the U.S. Navy.
Jason Pittman, a 1993 Killeen High School graduate, is a U.S. Navy Deputy Commodore of Submarine Squadron Six in Norfolk, Va., where he is responsible for 11 fast-attack submarines. He has 20 years’ experience in the naval submarine force.
Taking the stage first, Bass said he was 13 when an uncle first introduced him to electricity and a junior at Killeen High School when it began its electrical trades class, a program he said likely began because of him.
Eventually becoming a master electrician with a thriving, growing business, Bass said he learned that life is about relationships and using your gifts and skills to help others. In addition to starting an apprenticeship program, the business owner has taken his skills into numerous third-world countries on church mission trips.
“I was a little science nerd,” said Hanger, who praised his teachers for encouraging an obsession that began by looking at the ground in the fields around his military family’s Killeen home. As a college professor, he said he loves the experience of passing his passion to others.
Looking to the right side of the meeting room, Hyde said to the honored students, “you didn’t just attend, you excelled. As a teacher, I thank you. You keep us in the profession.”
The Baylor University astrophysics professor said his assignment to the seniors was to consider the question ‘What do you think we expect of you?’
The answer, he said, is to have high expectations of doing great things. “KISD graduates change the world,” Hyde said, naming five people he knows who he considers professional and personal successes.
He urged the seniors to build on the strong education they have already received and to learn to work harder than those around them.
“Thank you for setting the stage,” Erik Pittman said, honoring teachers and other KISD staff members who gave him his academic start. “It’s very satisfying to see so many working hard to provide our leaders for tomorrow.”
Also turning to students, he said his advice was ‘Don’t worry about it.’ The Navy captain urged the soon-to-graduate seniors that they have the resilience to push through all of life’s challenges.
His younger brother, Jason Pittman, also a Navy officer, pointed out that he purposely left his military rank out of the printed program to make the point that who you are as a person matters far more than rank or job title.
“Congratulations,” he said to the seniors. “You dominated high school and you are going to do great things.”
On his way to becoming a high school band director, Jason Pittman instead became the first person with a music degree to enter the Naval Nuclear Power School. He is now Deputy Commodore of Submarine Squadron Six in Norfolk, Virginia.
“What you demand and expect of yourself is what matters,” he said to the students.
Admittedly “a little shocked” to receive a scholarship from the school district, Ellison senior Isabella Trujillo said she was proud of her achievement. She plans to combine a love of criminal justice and healthcare to become a forensic nurse.
Juan Villafana, one of this year’s first-ever graduating seniors of the Early College High School is on his way to becoming a first-generation college student. “It’s really exciting,” he said of receiving a scholarship.
“This puts me closer to my dream to be a doctor,” he said. “My parents have been my biggest supporters.”
Brennan “Tucker” Sills, an Ellison senior and scholarship recipient included a mission statement in his application. “Community service is important to me to give back to others in need,” he said. He spearheaded a drive that netted 153 toys for a children’s hospital.
“Getting a scholarship is good to help me get to the University of Texas,” said Ellison senior Erika Closson. “Anything I can get is helpful for my family.”
In addition to honoring a new class of distinguished alumni and awarding scholarships to high-achieving seniors, the event provided Education Foundation leaders a chance to thank its numerous donors.
Since its inception in 2000, the KISD Education Foundation has awarded $831,214 in campus classroom grants and rebates, $411,589 in professional learning grants and $471,228 in scholarships to 314 graduating seniors. This year alone, the foundation awarded $260,000 in teacher grants and student scholarships, the most ever.
This year’s scholarship recipients include the following:
Central Texas College Scholarships – Erin Brown, Cassie Reyher, Jaquelin Rodriguez, Carolina Rosario and Alexia Wilkinson
Alumni Association Scholarships – Chantelle Cancel, Victoria Hicks, Audrey Lucey, Baylee McGuire and Alana Ruff
Barr Family Scholarship – Hakim Scott
Vicky Cooke Johnson Emerald Award – Kylei Vale
De Los Santos Academic Scholarship – Izja Lopez
Joni Lutz De Los Santos Education Scholarship – Carolyn Orona
Cohen Diem Special Education Scholarship –Laura Manglona
Educated Angels Scholarship in Memory of C. Zachary Sheppard – Naomi Whitfield
Andreas Garza Memorial Scholarship – Joceline Ballesteros
Norma Gray Memorial Scholarship – Nevaeh Christie
Hargus Family Scholarship – Brennan “Tucker” Sills
Dr. Jim and Nancy Hawkins Scholarship – Toranz James
Heart of a Lion Scholarship – Avery Parker
Maxine Hemenway and Joyce Wright Music Scholarship – Aliya Gonzalez
Margaret Hunt Memorial Scholarship – Faith Mason
Hunter Rentals Educational Scholarship – Kamyah Barnes
Killeen High School Class of 1975 Scholarship – LeyhmaLeban
Killeen High School Class of 1977 Scholarship – Brittaney Rivera-Orsini
KISD Educational Foundation Board Scholarship – Youstina Soliman and Jannel Hayden
KISD Education Foundation Campus Scholarship – Peyton Heidtbrink, Mohammad Khan, Jaylah Rawles, Dinev Rosales and Isaiah Sears
Killeen School Retirees’ Association Scholarship – Jean Cerezo-Pujol
Lions Pride Exemplifying Character Scholarship – Juan Villafana
Juanell Byrd Skidmore Memorial Scholarship – Cheyenne Carpenter and You Na Kim
Subhani Foundation Scholarship – Pasche Malone
Jack A. Wells Memorial Scholarship – Alejandro Vega
Whitis Foundation Scholarship – Esther Dashevsky
Al “Doc” Wilson Scholarship – Cesar GaribayBartolo
Lolly Buckley Memorial Scholarship – Natalia Goodman
Cleaver Family Scholarship – Gabrielle Clemente and Joseph Denton
Ace M. Connell Music Scholarship – Elizabeth Mattson
John and Gladys Driver Scholarship – Erika Closson and Isabella Trujillo
Harriet C. Jackson Scholarship – Haley Brown
Dr. Henry A. Mayer, Jr. Memorial Scholarship – Alejandra Collier
Brad Pfiester Memorial Scholarship – Lydia Scott
Gary and Helen Purser Family Scholarship – AdiaOrduna
Mike Russell Eagle Scout Memorial Scholarship – Stephanie Espinosa Hernandez