'Tenacious and strong': Superior High School's Class of 2022 overcomes four years of uncertainty
“You are resilient, adaptable survivors, tenacious and strong,” Superior High School Assistant Principal Bill Punyko told the class of 2022.
SUPERIOR — Friends and families packed the football bleachers at Superior High School Friday, June 3, to watch the class of 2022 triumph over four years of flux. They carried flowers, sent up cheers and wiped away tears.
Student council president Nam Nguyen summed up some of the barriers his class navigated during their high school years after the final diploma was handed out.
“If anyone out there is actually nervous about college, all I have to say is that we are the most prepared out of all of the grades before us. We started the school year with construction; half of us had to eat on the stairs. Our sophomore year was cut short. Last year wasn’t even real school, honestly. And then this year was a mix of normal school and the pandemic, so I would say we are very prepared for college,” Nguyen said.
The school handed out 295 diplomas to the class of 2022, according to Principal Rick Flaherty. Additional students are expected to earn their diplomas by the end of summer.
Student speaker Armella Lane said adapting to the continuous changes was tough.
“But you’re sitting here, right now; that proves you can overcome anything,” she said.
The senior said she struggled with her mental health, especially during the isolation of junior year, and considered giving up school. Lane shared a piece of advice, one her mother had given her.
“You hold the key to your own life, your own happiness, your own success, your self love,” Lane said.
She encouraged her classmates to carry those words with them as they move on.
“When you think all is lost; when you’re in the dark and you want to give up; when you feel like you can’t get out of bed; when you feel like one little pin drop will send you spiraling, I want you to remember your key,” Lane said. “I want you to remember that you hold your own happiness and self love. Your key cannot be taken away by anyone. So I encourage you, class of 2022, seniors, Spartans, graduates, use your key and open all of the doors in your life.”
Zakiya McCurtis choked up with tears as she gave her speech. A first-year student at SHS, McCurtis said she came in fearing it would be the worst time of her life; it ended up being her best year of high school due to support from her family, teachers and fellow students.
It started in the lunch room on her first day of school, as students came up to her to chat and make friends. Her fears about not fitting in started to lift.
“And as I look around, I see all of the students being themselves and not scared to wear what they wanted and be judged. And by the type of person I am, I am a loud, energetic person. A lot of y’all may know that,” McCurtis said. “And I instantly knew that this was the place for me to be me and make instant friendship connections.”
She went on to found a Black student union at the school with some friends. It offers, McCurtis said, “a safe space for students of all races and cultures to feel free to speak their mind and let their ideas run free.”
She credited teachers at the school and counselor Heidi Sigfrids for helping her succeed, despite being behind in credits from the pandemic. Kari Saunders, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the district, also prompted her to audition for a graduation speaker spot.
“I realized you didn't always have to have straight A's or be higher class to aspire to have opportunities, or to be the start of something great,” McCurtis said. “Just be you and focus on you. Opportunities will come. And in the words of Maya Angelou, ‘If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.’ And speaking of amazing, these experiences made me realize that sometimes all you need is someone who believes in you and thinks you already have something great.”
Assistant Principal Bill Punyko also spoke. He was among a number of SHS teachers and staff who are “graduating” to retirement. They’re fielding the same question graduates get: “So, what are you going to do now?”
“What I’ve learned through my experiences is that these transitions are a process, not a destination,” Punyko said. “You will discover your future. You may have a specific plan, but those plans change. You’ll discover what’s next, you’ll adapt to the changes.”
They’ve been through a pandemic and a refinery fire in addition to their other challenges.
“You are resilient, adaptable survivors, tenacious and strong,” Punyko said, pausing for a moment. “You guys are going to make me cry. With the help of your parents, teachers and friends, you’ve learned how to deal with adversity and success. You truly are Superior. Congratulations, class of 2022.”
This story was updated at 8:15 p.m. June 6 to clarify who encouraged Zakiya McCurtis. It was originally posted at 1:22 p.m. June 6.