MATHIS – Three county schools put an end to their senior year on June 12. Mathis, Odem and Gregory-Portland ISDs finally made it to the end of their very strange school years while practicing social distancing and some donning masks.

The 95 members of the Mathis High School Class of 2020 celebrated graduation a couple of weeks later than originally planned, but enjoyed an encouraging and inspiring send-off.

Originally planned for May 29, response to the COVID-19 crisis pushed the ceremony back. But the event was well attended, and all those present were required to have a mask in accordance with public health recommendations to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

MHS Principal Dr. Jesse Riojas acknowledged the unusual school year and its interruption by the global pandemic, but encouraged students to respond to this and other challenges by overcoming them.

“The choice is all yours,” he told students. “I challenge you to do extraordinary things. ... Make it happen. Please believe in yourself because we believe in you.”

Keynote speaker Curtis Clay, director of school safety education at Empowered Actions Consulting, based in Bullard (near Tyler) told students that the unusual experiences they had had because of the COVID-19 crisis would help them deal with unexpected challenges  throughout their lives.

“You have gained valuable lessons and experiences you will be able to take with you for the rest of your lives,” Clay told the graduates. “You have also learned how to handle fear and apprehension. ... I truly believe we can come out stronger.”

He also urged the graduates to find and do things that enrich their lives and make them happy.

“You are going to be tested and you find a way to survive both mentally and physically,” Clay said. “Continue to find those things in your life that bring you joy. You are always going to have tough times, but do things that bring you joy, comfort and peace and keep them with you wherever you go.”

MHS Salutatorian Elyseth DeLeon, who has already earned an associate degree from Coastal Bend College, will be continuing her education at Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

“I was always the quiet one,” she said, adding that when she was in eighth grade, she met someone — her friend and Valedictorian Vanessa Garcia — who helped her realize what she could achieve.

“Don’t let great opportunities pass you by because you are afraid of the consequences,” DeLeon said.

Valedictorian Garcia, who has also earned an associate degree from Coastal Bend College, will further her education at Texas A&M University in College Station.

“Although the year was cut short I still feel the Class of 2020 made the best of what time we had,” Garcia said.

She noted that her grandfather’s birthday was on the originally scheduled graduation date — May 29 — and that had meant a lot to her because of his impact on her life.

One thing he taught her, she said, was “keep fighting, keep going and never give up.”