COLUMBIA — A record seven valedictorians graduated from Hickman High School on Saturday.
The graduation ceremony took place from 2 to 4 p.m. at Mizzou Arena. More than 600 students walked during commencement, said Paige Reed, counselor and senior class sponsor in charge of graduation at Hickman.
Family and friends of the graduates cheered and whistled as the students filed into the arena in their purple gowns and caps with gold tassels.
Principal Michael Jeffers introduced the speakers, students, faculty and school board members present on the stage.
“(The students) have excelled in every aspect beyond our expectations,” Jeffers said.
Senior speakers Courtney Holmes and Raysha Sally reminded the class of the memories they shared and gave encouraging words for the future.
“'Oh, the Places You’ll Go' sums up the experience we have had at Hickman,” Holmes said.
Sally also reminded the students of their newfound responsibility.
“Today ends free education, and college is only what you make it,” she said.
This was one of the highest-achieving classes ever to graduate from Hickman, Reed said. In addition to the record number of valedictorians, there were 18 National Merit finalists — the most for one school in the state of Missouri, she said.
“These students are an impressive group," Reed said. "They are just nice students, too. We were excited to get them, and we’re really sad to lose them.”
Twin brothers Chadrick and Chavis Butler were among the day's graduates. They had to overcome several obstacles on the way to obtaining their diplomas.
“It’s a family tradition that we all graduate as Kewpies," Chavis said. "My grandma and mom, pretty much everyone on my mom’s side all graduated as Kewpies."
The family became homeless in November 2007 after a kitchen fire damaged their home and they were evicted, said Cynthia Simmons, the twins’ mother. They lived with Simmons' other family members until they moved into shelters, where they remained until June 2008. The family then moved into public housing, where they live today.
“I just wanted to have my kids succeed, keeping them together," Simmons said. "Basically, be a lot better than me."
Ronald Curren, the brothers' grandfather, offered to help Simmons during the family’s difficult times, but she insisted on getting through on her own, he said.
“I’ve been waiting for this day a long time," Curren said. "So many kids stray away. They’ve managed to stay the course. Their mom just kept pushing, saying, ‘You’re gonna do it, you’re gonna do it.’ I’m very proud of her as well,” he said.
Chavis wants to enter the Army, and Chadrick plans on attending State Fair Community College in Sedalia to study computer forensics, Simmons said.
“I like nothing but computers," Chadrick said. "All the computers that we have in our household I made from scratch from people donating old computer parts that they didn’t want. We have two computers — one’s my mom’s and one’s mine. That made me want to go into a field like computer forensics. It seems like there is a lot of problem solving, and it seems fun.”
Other students at the ceremony were honored for their academic achievements. Jessica Hwang, a valedictorian, National Merit finalist and Presidential Scholar, plans to attend Harvard University in the fall and major in math. Since her junior year, Hwang has taken classes at both Hickman and MU. She has mainly taken math, Spanish and French courses at MU.
“The teachers (at Hickman) really push us to be better thinkers," Hwang said. "The history and English departments are really strong. My calculus teacher, Dr. Wasman, inspired me to go into math. Overall in academics, our teachers are definitely comparable to what you would see in an elite private school."
Hwang has also found a lot of support in her friends, she said.
“Everyone can count on everyone else. A lot of times we will discuss poetry together — even outside of class. We will get on G-chat for hours and do physics problems together,” Hwang said.
Another graduate, Joe Langworthy, is a National Merit finalist who plans on attending MU in the fall. He wants to study business with an emphasis in accounting and economics.
“My experiences with friends have made me realize what is important," he said. "I’ve learned through experiences at Hickman how to develop relationships with people and the importance of these relationships."