'Onward and upward' for REL graduates

Robert E. Lee students wait to walk the stage and receive their diplomas during their graduation ceremony Friday night at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium. (Victor Texcucano | Tyler Morning Telegraph)

Robert E. Lee High School students expressed mixed emotions before walking the graduation stage Friday. There were emotions of excitement and sadness as they embraced the future and left the past.

"It's just weird. It's gone by real fast," said Sarah McKellar, who will attend Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Eryk D. McCoy, who will attend the University of Arkansas, said there's "a sense of relief that we're done" but also part of him that's sad he won't see his friends each day.

For Brittany Matlock, graduation was one of her last times to be with family and friends before going to military basic training, and for Elizabeth Nyberg, who will attend Texas Tech University to major in nursing, the day meant "the beginning of a new chapter."

Kathryn Funderburg, who will attend Trinity University in San Antonio, added, "It doesn't seem real yet."

About 600 students were set to graduate Friday at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium. During the ceremony, students walked out to "Pomp and Circumstance" as some attendees shouted a name or took photos. They also heard from salutatorian Ruhama Binte Shakhawat and valedictorian Francis Eugene Lewis.

Ms. Shakhawat, who will attend Vanderbilt University, thanked audience members and classmates. She also asked her peers to remember when they entered Robert E. Lee and told them to be proud of their accomplishments.

"Today is no small feat," she said.

She said graduation was also a "celebration of good and bad times."

Lewis, who will attend Stanford University, thanked teachers, saying they all have made an impact. He also challenged peers to "never cease learning," "set goals higher than you ever imagine," "persevere to reach your dreams," and "be a servant leader," among other things.

Ken Vaughn, Tyler ISD's director of student services, said the fact the graduates are able to receive a diploma from Tyler ISD is substantial.

"They earned it," he said.

Krista Rouse, whose cousin was graduating, echoed Vaughn, saying she's proud of every graduate because a lot of people don't graduate.

"These days it means more than it used to," she said.

As for advice for the Robert E. Lee graduates, Vaughn said, "onward and upward."