Kiessence Bassett believes her class will change the world.
Bassett was one of 337 students who graduated from Battle High School Friday and was among the three students chosen by the class of 2019 to speak at Mizzou Arena. The graduating seniors earned more than $6.5 million in grants, scholarships and financial awards.
During Bassett’s commencement speech, she used her identity as a “radical activist” to detail how impactful her graduating class has been on Battle and the community around them.
“It’s not the place that matters, but the impact that we make on people,” Bassett said.
Principal Dr. Kim Presko spoke to the class of 2019’s efforts toward inclusion from their first days at Battle.
“[It was difficult] dealing with everything that happened on Mizzou’s campus [in 2015],” Presko said. “They were freshmen at the time, and they wanted Battle High School to be more inclusive than maybe what others were in other places. We just had those tough conversations about everybody feeling valued and welcomed, and they were willing to lead that as a group of students with their peers.”
Presko also attested to the students’ inclusivity toward those with special needs. Taylor Reed, one of the three student commencement speakers, was held back after being diagnosed with a learning disability in the third grade.
“We can defy the stereotypes that people place upon us,” Reed said. “We can overcome the challenges that life hands us.”
She’ll be attending Westminster College in the fall on a wrestling scholarship, the first woman from the Columbia Public School District to do so.
While the first few graduates received their diplomas, the crowd was subdued, but any lingering tension broke after Marlin Allen struck a pose and threw on a pair of sunglasses after he was handed his diploma.
“Honestly, I thought there was going to be more people that topped me, so I was really scared to be the first person,” Allen said. “But it felt really good because it’s actually something important that’s happened to me.”
Allen will study music at Missouri State University in the fall. He’s acutely aware that graduation isn’t the end of the road.
“It feels amazing [to graduate], but I know in two weeks, it’s gonna really bite me in the butt,” Allen said. “I’ll have to start paying for my own bills; I’ll have to start living by myself. I’m going to have to get used to adult-ing.”
By the ceremony’s end, audience members had brought their hoots, hollers and air horns.
But the faculty had one more surprise up their sleeves. Right before the recessional, incoming junior Jonah Sarabia emerged from behind the curtain in Battle’s brand-new Spartan mascot suit, complete with a spear and shield.
Sarabia said he was chosen for the role by coincidence. When he arrived at secretary Shelly Herman’s office Friday morning to drop off a check, he ran into members of the administration examining the costume.
“I’ve always wanted to be a mascot,” Sarabia said. “It sounds really cool.”
The ceremony ended with a rendition of the Battle “hoo-rah” as the graduates streamed out of Mizzou Arena.
“Let’s go out into the world and show them what it means to be Spartans,” Reed said in her speech.