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“Indian Strong” — PNG graduation reflects on Class of 2020 theme

PORT NECHES — The Port Neches-Groves Independent School District Class of 2020’s Thursday night commencement ceremony wrapped up the Mid- and South- County’s tumultuous school year.

The 362-strong senior class set many precedents, the largest number of scholarships accrued, $4.4 million, the first to host an adopt-a-senior program, where each senior was adopted three times, and the first to display senior names and faces on digital and paper signs.

Throughout cyber attacks, plant explosions and global pandemics, PNG High School Principal Dr. Scott Ryan said one word comes to mind when thinking of the Class of 2020 — togetherness.

Senior Wyatt Curry boasts a decorative cap stating, “history has it’s eyes on you” with the familiar symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I can say this to you guys,” Ryan spoke to a sea of purple and white. “You guys have had some bad luck this year, but I have seen nothing but love. The bad times brought you closer together, and it shows you are meant for something bigger than yourselves. I truly believe the Class of 2020 is closer than any other graduating class.”

Seniors Ta’Shina Williams, Eva Vargas and Kody Brown echoed Ryan’s statement earlier in the day as they waited inside the gym, ready to cross the stage.

“I’m excited,” Williams said. “I’m ready to get it over with, but not in a bad way. I’m ready to be done.”

Vargas said she felt the same way.

“I’m excited, but now it’s just crazy and weird that we are graduating,” she said. “I’m excited for the change in the future and our success.”

Class President Kristen Crippen smiles for a picture holding her diploma.

When it came down to naming the hardest part of their senior year, the trio couldn’t decide on just one catastrophe.

“Literally every single tragedy that has happened this year, including COVID-19,” Vargas said. “Despite that, we still made it.”

Each senior announced their college plans and the excitement of a new start.

Williams, a top student in the business program at PNG, is attending Southern University in Louisiana to major in business.

“I’m ready for the next step,” she said. “What’s going to happen afterwards. We’ve been here since kindergarten. You get into a rotation and know what to expect, but after high school there is no schedule. It’s how you write your own path from here on out.”

Brown, a former PNG soccer player, is heading to Lamar State College Port Arthur to begin a degree in Instrumentation.

The Class of 2020 joined in unison during the alma mater.

“I’m just excited to see how the future falls in place,” he said.

Brown and Williams said they will both miss the football games.

“The football games, definitely,” Williams said. “Mid-County Madness, my friends and the spirit that the school has. You cannot go to another school and have them come here. It’s wild.”

Vargas, a member of junior and senior HOSA, former Indianette and band member, is going to Lamar University in Beaumont for nursing.

“I’m excited to see where the medical field takes me,” she said. “I’m just really excited for my future.”

Vargas said she will miss her friends from high school the most.

“I know we will not be able to see each other all the time,” she said. “Some of us are moving out of state, some of us are staying here. I’m for sure going to miss some of my teachers and the ones that have impacted me the most, too.”

Williams, for one, was grateful for the opportunity to be a part of a traditional graduation.

“I want to say thank you,” she said. “Most schools didn’t have the experience to walk across the stage. Our administration put together a parade for us, a graduation, they made sure that we still got to have our senior year experience, even though we weren’t officially in school.”

As each student readied their cap and gowns, they shouted a big “thank you” to the education system, friends and families that supported them through their journey.

“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to be here,” Vargas spoke for the group. “We will miss it, but we’re ready.”