The Cajundome was flooded with graduation guests Thursday, Friday and Saturday as the Lafayette Parish School System’s class of 2022 said farewell to high school and hello to their next chapter.
The pride from the seniors’ cheering sections was evident as loved ones shouted their names through cupped hands, leaped to their feet with waving arms and grasped balloon bouquets, flowers and congratulatory banners at Ovey Comeaux High School’s ceremony Saturday.
Superintendent Irma Trosclair praised the seniors’ hard work; across the district, 1,632 students in the class of 2022 took a total of 5,487 dual enrollment courses, earned 3,788 career credentials and received over $41.9 million in scholarship offers.
The superintendent encouraged the newly minted graduates to live courageously, persevere through challenges and prioritize being people of character, much like they did in weathering the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years.
“In school, you receive lesson after lesson after lesson, and then you’re given a test. However, in life the tests usually come first and the lessons come afterward. Life is about learning from the tough tests that you will face,” Trosclair said, paraphrasing a speech from Grambling State University’s graduation.
Comeaux principal Renee White reminded her students that they’re now responsible for writing the stories of their lives — where they travel next, what characters will appear and for how long, whether they’ll experience love and adventure, and how their stories will end.
“I like to think about life as a book,” White said. “What has occurred in chapter one of your book really has about 20% to do with what you had control over…The future chapters of your book will be based on the decisions that you make. You get to decide what comes next and who will be part of each chapter.”
White took time in her speech to call out students’ accomplishments, whether for technical education credentials, extracurricular involvement or good character, including several who lived a favorite school saying, “Be great, be kind and be a Spartan.”
Sydney Liles, 17, was one of the students cheered for her Spartan-like attitude.
“From the time I met Sydney she has continued to work beyond anyone’s expectations and continues to make me proud on a daily basis. I have seen Sydney smile through extreme pain and persevere when many others would have given up,” the principal said.
Liles, who graduated beside her twin brother, Charles, said she was stunned when White singled her out for praise. The teen was diagnosed at age 12 with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neuromuscular disease that can impact nerves that transmit messages throughout the body and control muscles. She began using a wheelchair at the end of her sophomore year.
The Comeaux graduate said crossing the high school finish line brought with it a swirl of emotion — disbelief at how quickly the time passed, accomplishment at her hard work, joy, sadness the experience is over — but she said she felt empowered after walking across the graduation stage.
“When I was diagnosed with my chronic disease I was told I wouldn’t be able to walk for graduation. It was a really big moment for me to be able to walk right before my brother and have that normal moment where I’m just like anybody else,” Liles said. “I cried afterward.”
Liles plans to attend the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to study political science with a pre-law focus and her brother, Charles, plans to attend UL to study electrical engineering.
Family members for Ty’Reek Boykins traveled from Texas and Alabama to join his graduation cheering squad, many of the roughly 15-person crew bedecked in customized “Ty’Reek’s Grad Squad” T-shirts.
The Comeaux graduate’s cousin, 21-year-old Alexys Edwards, said she remembers the challenges and commitment needed to make it to the graduation stage and said she was proud to see her baby cousin take that big step.
Boykins’ grandmother, Georgia Kimble, drove down from Alexandria for the Saturday morning ceremony and was elated to be there for her only grandson’s special day. Boykins plans to attend college for business and nutrition science, she said.
“I’m just bubbling over with joy…I’m just so thankful to God that I could see this moment. This is what I’ve been praying for — this day and to see him walk across that stage,” Kimble said.