Temple Daily TelegramJulie Barber and her family shook off the rain Thursday afternoon as they entered the Bell County Expo Center to see her daughter, Mariah Barber, graduate from Belton New Tech High School @Waskow.For this mother there is a sentimental value seeing her “baby” graduate.“She is my seventh high school graduate,” she said.With the exception of her oldest who graduated in Houston, her six other children are all Belton ISD graduates. “They are all doing great with three who have graduated from college and four to go,” she said. “I know God has a lot in store for all my children.”There are two things Julie Barber said that have allowed her to successfully raise such a big family.“My awesome husband, Gary, because it takes teamwork and God,” she said.Mariah was among 103 students graduating as a part of New Tech’s Class of 2016 — the second class to graduate from the new school.“Not only is it exciting to celebrate their hard work and success in high school, it’s also exciting to see the community and the culture that they have helped create at New Tech,” Belton ISD Superintendent Susan Kincannon said.A video message sent from Baghdad featuring Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, was played on two big screens.“Thank you for supporting loved ones as they are overseas,” MacFarland said to students of deployed family members who were unable to attend the ceremony. “You make sacrifices, too.”Andrew McMahon, New Tech’s valedictorian, spoke to his peers about the “leg up in life” students obtained crediting the innovative school and its project-based learning.“This small Central Texas town decided to add a New Tech program, in addition to the traditional high school, and promoted an education that truly prepares students for post-high school life,” he said at the ceremony.Salutatorian Heather Parker encouraged her peers to go out and engage the world.“Face all of the hardships that are coming head-on,” Parker said in her speech.”You don’t want to live your life with regrets because you didn’t follow your dream. You will have some failures, but it will always be better to try and fail than to not have tried at all.”Mark Benno, area development manager for Apple Education, delivered the commencement speech to the Apple Distinguished School. He told students that unforeseen circumstances may cause turbulence throughout their lives, but encouraged them to respond accordingly.“What you can control, however, is how you respond to those elements,” he said.Largest class graduates from Belton High; student rememberedIt was a packed house Thursday evening at the Bell County Expo Center as Belton High School graduated its largest class to date, made up of 663 students.“Belton ISD is a fast-growing school district,” Kincannon said. “And that’s evident in the number of graduates that we are celebrating today. Including both high schools, we are awarding more diplomas to the Class of 2016 than any class of Belton ISD students before them.”Students were in good spirits as they entered the center draped in red gowns.Melissa Sebek, mother of graduating senior Tyler Sebek, said she was excited about the graduation, but also sad because it represented the closing of another chapter in her son’s life.“I am sad to know he is about to be moving to Tarleton and I won’t get to see his smiling face every day,” Sebek said. “He is my baby.”Jasmine Peng, Belton High’s valedictorian, spoke about that same anxiety that comes with leaving the nest.“That we look past the heartache of leaving home and instead hope to leave a positive legacy in the community so we can keep in mind that ‘in order to leave something significant behind, you have to leave,’” Peng said in her speech. “I hope that we use this moment as a reminder to live actively as opposed to passively because ‘everything passes; that is partly why it is so beautiful.’”One seat on the floor stood out among others — because it was empty and draped with a graduation gown.“I would also like to take this time to recognize our fellow classmate Andres Martinez (Bazan) and honor his hard work and dedication throughout these past four years,” class president Darian Burns said in his speech.Martinez-Bazan drowned May 23 at Temple Lake Park while swimming with friends.“We regret that he wasn’t able to finish this journey out with us, but as we continue, his memory will live forever,” Burns said, initiating a moment of silence.Martinez-Bazan’s younger brother, Pastor Bazan, who also attends Belton High, accepted a diploma in his brother’s absence on behalf of his family.Salutatorian Christina Gaw spoke to those who plan to stay within the community following graduation.“I give my greatest gratitude to you all and only ask that you try your best to keep this place as good as it is, and if not, to improve it,” she said. “I truly hope that happiness finds its way into your lives if it hasn’t already, and that the future holds opportunities for you all.”

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