More than 1,800 Lafayette Parish high school seniors proudly walked across the stage at the Cajundome to receive their diplomas on Saturday, waving to family members and occasionally snapping a selfie in front of the packed arena.
Lafayette High School, the largest high school in the parish, granted 565 degrees to its graduating seniors. Comeaux, Northside, Acadiana and Carencro High schools also had their graduation ceremonies Saturday.
“Last year, I challenged you to explore your possibilities, and you have more than met my challenges,” Lafayette High Principal Patrick Leonard said. “You have brought Lafayette High School recognition within our community, our state and even within our nation. You have simply amazed me.”
Leonard said this year’s graduating class collected a total of $15.5 million in scholarships, surpassing last year’s $11 million.
“You have a destiny,” Leonard continued. “Develop your skills, improve your talents and increase your knowledge. Dare to make friendship a fine art and dare to be true to yourself. Be your hardest critic. Follow your dreams and know nothing is impossible.”
Interim Superintendent Burnell LeJeune had students think of the popular classic “Wizard of Oz” and reflect on their journey.
“Entering ninth grade, you had to choose your own yellow brick road and which path to take,” he said. “You had to meet your scarecrow and gain that knowledge. Then you had to meet that tin man for the heart, and along the way, you had to meet that cowardly lion because you had to gain that courage.
“Tomorrow, you’re going to have to decide on a new yellow brick path,” he continued, “and I know you’re going to use that road to the land of your future.”
LeJeune also took a moment to introduce the newly appointed Superintendent Don Aguillard.
“Graduates, your world lies open before you, and today you can have it all. The possibilities are truly endless,” Aguillard told the graduating seniors.
Within the graduating class at Lafayette High, 21 students were recognized for maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average.
“It’s like I’m a surrogate father because I really get to know these students,” said Shane Guilbeau, a speech, drama and debate teacher at Lafayette High. “I’m proud all over again to see my students (walk across the stage).”
Mona Barton, whose daughter, Chloe, graduated on Saturday, said it is one of the “best and toughest things” to see her last child leave high school and enter into adulthood.
Aside from encouraging teachers and proud parents, the students had their own optimistic outlook on what their future holds.
“I’m going to miss my school’s spirit,” said graduate John Allen, “but I feel independent because it’s up to me to make my own path. After high school, it’s your own decisions, and I look forward to what’s next.”
Allen said he plans to attend the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in the fall as a nursing major.
Fellow graduate Amber Aubrey, who will be attending South Louisiana Community College in the fall, laughed and simply said, “It was hard work, but we’ve finally made it.”
Pat Wright, the Cajundome’s facility service director for events, said putting on an event of this magnitude is gratifying.
“We love to have it here,” she said. “We get close to some of the graduates, and it’s just a great experience for the city.”
Wright said all the preparations are completed prior to the first graduation at 8 a.m., and throughout the day, the only task that employees must complete is removing or adding chairs depending on the size of the graduating class.
However, the graduation wasn’t the only event taking place on Saturday.
“(Having both the graduation and the Cajun Heartland State Fair) is very confusing and very hard for the officers outside,” Wright said. “We’ve been doing this for many years, but the schools are getting larger, so the challenges are getting tougher.”
Addressing the crowd of now-Lafayette High alumni, Senior Class President Justin Edwards said, “Outside of these doors is a world filled with opportunity. The potential in this room is only topped by the potential we have in the future.”