By Jennifer Watson
BELTON — Thousands of high school seniors, dressed in gowns, tossed their caps in the air as they said “good-bye” to high school, and “hello,” to the future.
The Bell County Expo Center here housed many graduating seniors last week, as area schools took turns walking the stage. More than 4,000 students in schools from Temple to Copperas Cove received their high school diplomas, spanning from Thursday to Sunday.
Belton High School presented the largest graduating class with 686, followed by Ellison with 659, Shoemaker 583, Harker Heights 581, Temple 555, Killeen High School 500, Copperas Cove 473 and Belton’s New Tech at 125.
All of the ceremonies included a message from III Corps and Fort Hood Commanding General Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, and Command Sergeant Major Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Crosby.
Funk’s voice resonated among the crowd as he said, “On behalf of the Soldiers, civilians and Families on Fort Hood, we congratulate you on your graduation. Your hard work has paid off, and you should be extremely proud to achieve this significant milestone.”
Crosby also provided a few words, “As you celebrate, let me remind you to thank your parents and your Families for their love and support. You didn’t make it to this moment on your own,” he said. “For those of you from Fort Hood, whose parents are deployed around the world defending our freedom, I want to assure you that they are tremendously proud of you and they would be here today, if they could.”
During the ceremonies, live video feeds of deployed parents flashed on the big screens as their children walked the stage.
At Belton’s New Tech graduation, Key Club President Maria Borchardt attributed the students’ commitment and dedication to the community to Capt. Henry T. Waskow.
“As a school, we strive to always be committed and dedicated to our community, just as Capt. Waskow was. Students: we must recognize that our 40 hours of community service is a small price to pay for a community that has dedicated a great amount to us,” she said. “In fact, our school is honored as the first high school to receive the Purple Heart award, which is in recognition of Capt. Waskow and his commitment to service. This is a great honor to which we are extremely proud.”
Among the graduating class was Cadet Col. Nathan Morrison, of Belton’s Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. Morrison’s dad, Maj. Aaron Morrison, transferred to Fort Polk, Louisiana, from Fort Hood this week.
Morrison plans to continue his ROTC service at Norwich University in Vermont and commission into the Marine Corps, the first in his Family to join that branch of the military.
Reflecting on his JROTC service, Morrison said he didn’t start doing things in the organization until his sophomore year, and then would serve in any capacity he could after that.
In his junior year, Morrison said he reached the rank of cadet lieutenant colonel, and didn’t expect to go any higher than that until his instructor surprised him with a sudden promotion, making him cadet colonel, the highest rank possible for JROTC.
As the graduates headed out to begin their futures, the words from Funk hung in the air, “In the words of Defense Secretary (James) Mattis, be brave, honestly humble, be a home run of a human being. Good luck in your future endeavors.”