The gymnasium of Clarksville High School filled with hundreds of smiling faces Saturday afternoon as family, friends and classmates came in droves to see the Class of 2019 take their first steps towards the rest of their lives.

During the ceremony, the new graduates spent time to reflect on the people who helped get them to where they are now.

“I’ve been blessed to have such a strong support system,” valedictorian Alexis Rodriguez said. “I thank my mother, who never let me doubt myself or give up, because she knew my capabilities even when I second guessed them. For this, I just want to say that, ‘Mom, I’m finally done.’”

Rodriguez also thanked the teachers who helped her and her classmates reach graduation.

“Without y’all and the sacrifices you’ve made for us, we wouldn’t be able to be here today,” she said.

Salutatorian Asjah Griffin reminisced on the road to graduation, including eccentric middle school teachers, struggling to figure out how to open lockers as freshmen and other fond memories..

“The road to where we are tonight has been a long one, full of setbacks and roadblocks,” she said. “But we have had many people to help us along the way.”

As Clarksville High School principal Roshea Phillips reminded the graduates, they had much to be proud of.

“Sixty percent of graduates have done over and beyond the graduation requirements the performance acknowledgement recognition,” Phillips said. “In addition to completing all graduation requirements, the graduates on this graduation plan have either completed 12 or more hours of college credit with a 3.0 (GPA) or better, scored a 28 or higher on the ACT, or demonstrated proficiency in a biliteracy pathway.”

And it wasn’t just the students and faculty who expressed pride at the accomplishments of the class of 2019. The cheers, smiling faces, and more than a few tears from parents in the audience were evident of that.

“I’m just so super proud of her,” said Brandon Watkins, father of Ty Watkins, who will be attending the University of Texas-Arlington in the fall. “Going through the trials and tribulations of raising a kid, and seeing her succeed the way she’s been able to, seeing the way she’s blossomed over the years is really a blessing. To see how far she’s come as a woman and how far we’ve come as a family really says a lot.”

Keynote speaker Kendrick Taylor, who serves as the department chair of special education at Nimitz High School in Irving, warned the graduates against becoming complacent, saying a person who isn’t working to be better is akin to being clinically dead.

“A person is pronounced dead when there is irreversible cessation of that person’s spontaneous respiratory and circulatory functions; this is what we call clinical death,” Taylor said. “However, there is another type of death that is much worse. That death is called stagnation. Stagnation is characterized by a lack of activity, growth or development.”

Taylor told graduates that stagnation is caused by uncertainty or fear, procrastination and complacency.

He clarified, though, there is a distinction between complacency and contentment. Taylor said a content person is someone who is genuinely happy in fulfilled with where they are in life, while a complacent person is merely someone unwilling to put in the work to reach that fulfillment.

He urged graduates to never stop learning, just because some are done with school.

“The ability to understand what is real and what is false is a crucial skill,” Taylor said. “Continue to educate yourself formally and informally, Never stop learning. Those who fail to acquire knowledge stop growing.”

Tommy Culkin is a staff writer for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at

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