First ECHS Class Celebrates

Early College Class of 2019
By: Todd Martin
Officially, they’re Lions, but the first-ever graduates of the Killeen ISD Early College High School will likely be remembered as trailblazers.
The school’s inaugural Class of 2019, four years after starting high school and college simultaneously, stepped across the commencement stage Friday for the second time this month and celebrated completion.
Most of the 166 graduates earned associate’s degrees from Central Texas College before finishing their dual task, earning high school diplomas during graduation at the Bell County Expo Center.
Throughout the ceremony, student, administrator and teacher speakers noted students’ courage for stepping into uncertainty and far exceeding academic expectations, but emphasized the school’s culture of care and service.
Part of the close-knit culture nurtured at the school manifested as custodial, cafeteria, bus driver and other staff members joined the graduates and faculty seated together in the Expo Center arena as family members roared approval.
KISD Early College High School is a partnership between KISD and Central Texas College with school buildings at CTC and on Fort Hood. Educate Texas named it a model College and Career Readiness School in Texas.
Principal Kathleen Burke addressed students prior to the ceremony, urging them to enjoy the celebration and congratulating their achievement. In the ceremony, she said fear is a natural emotion, showing they are going to do great things and that they are ready.
Senior Class President Satchel Bellard acknowledged the class and said the school had “demolished expectations,” and assured his peers they have the tools to succeed and future classes would now do the same.
Though class members will inevitably drift apart as they go separate ways, he said, they would remain part of “the lion pride,” made possible, he said by the educators who poured into their lives.
Salutatorian Joshua Munroe said the rigors of high school and college likely caused many to “never truly realize how fleeting high school is.” He urged classmates to continue to spread the love and passion they displayed as students in the world.
Valedictorian Mohammad Khan recalled five years ago, when the students took Burke up on her challenge to join her before she had a staff or a building. He told the students to look around at their peers and remember the adversities and challenges they faced.
“Cherish those moments,” he said. “Appreciate those who support you in those moments. Don’t let high school be the end. Use your voice and knowledge. The world needs leaders and scholars to challenge the status quo.”  
Early College High School math teacher Jonathan “Marc” Jones addressed the senior class, revealing the closely held secret of his daily lesson – “Be happy. Be healthy. Make good choices. Eat your Cheerios.”
Jones, the KISD Secondary Teacher of the Year, assured students they could overcome life’s challenges through pursuing balance in caring for physical, mental and spiritual health, being quick to forgive others and choosing optimism.
“Eating your Cheerios,” he said, was a way to get students to remember his advice to make a daily commitment to show love to others and self while living a balanced, courageous life.
“It’s been so much for so long,” said graduate Avery Parker, explaining her excitement to finish high school and two years of college. “We’re finally here. I’ll remember the skills we learned and the growth we’ve seen.”
“It’s exciting and humbling,” said Shauntae Payne. “The transition we made has been unique – going to college with adults while we’re in high school. We were determined to get here and now we can progress to the future.”