Leicia Gonzalez choked up as she held tightly onto her high school diploma Thursday afternoon.
As she recalled all that she had been through to graduate midterm from Grand Island Senior High, she couldn’t help but get teary-eyed. While Gonzalez graduated a year late due to family issues, she said she finally was able to achieve her goal of being the first of her mother’s daughters to graduate from high school.
Gonzalez was one of 59 students to earn their high school diploma at a midterm graduation ceremony Thursday afternoon in GISH’s auditorium. The commencement was held without families in attendance due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, they were able to watch the graduates walk across the stage via a private YouTube link.
Nine other students graduated but did not walk across the stage.
Gonzalez said it felt good to graduate.
“Something got in the way, but I did it and it feels amazing,” she said.
When she first came to GISH from a private school, Gonzalez said she had severe anxiety and did not have a support system.
“I didn’t think I would ever be here today graduating,” she said. “My little brother kept me wanting to graduate. He kept me thinking, ‘You have to do this.’”
Gonzalez said she later found a support system of teachers, administrators and counselors at GISH and is “extremely thankful” to them for helping her get where she is today.
“Once I got here, I just had so many people wanting to be my side, to see me get where I needed to go,” she said. “The teachers and staff here were very supportive. They didn’t let me bring myself down. They were always there helping me. They made sure that if I needed something, I got it.”
Gonzalez said she hopes to attend college “somewhere in Lincoln” in August to become a crime scene photographer. For high school students who may be struggling to see their graduation days as a reality, Gonzalez encouraged students to keep on persevering.
“Don’t ever give up, regardless of how hard it gets,” she said. “It may be very hard, but do not give up. If you give up, you are just allowing yourself to go down deeper into a hole you don’t want to get into.”
Thursday’s was among the school’s largest midterm graduating classes, said Jeff Gilbertson, GISH executive principal. In his address to the graduates, he said they should be grateful to all of the “talented and committed” teachers, counselors, administrators and staff members who have supported them in their educational journey.
“We believe in all of you,” he said. “We believe in your future and we want you to continue to wear purple and be gold.”
Grand Island Public Schools Superintendent Tawana Grover told the graduates that their character and “dedicated commitment” have given the district a “glimpse of true perseverance.”
“No graduating class in GISH’s history has faced what you have faced this year,” she said. “While many students over the years have pushed through various things in the lead-up to graduation, not many can say that they have achieved this in spite of a pandemic. Yet, you persevered.
“The determination has shown you power and it bodes well with how you will tackle every obstacle that may come your way in life. Not even a global pandemic could stop you from getting your high school diploma.”