Prosper pulls out all the stops for graduation ceremony

Lisa Ferguson
Prosper Press
Fireworks explode over Prosper ISD's Children's Health Stadium June 5 during the Prosper High School graduation ceremony.

Prosper High School sent off members of its class of 2020 with a literal bang June 5 during a commencement ceremony held at Children’s Health Stadium.

Clocking in at about three hours in length, the ceremony was a slightly long goodbye for the 800-plus seniors who comprised the largest graduating class in the history of Prosper ISD.

It was also the final class to graduate before the district becomes home to two high school campuses in August with the scheduled opening of Rock Hill High School.

Seemingly all of the stops were pulled out for the seniors, who saw their spring sports seasons cut short and missed out on milestones including prom after Prosper High’s campus was closed in March in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ceremony kicked off with a flyover of the stadium by a squad of vintage airplanes just before the graduates, wearing face masks adorned with the Prosper High School logo, filed onto the field and sat socially distanced in their caps and gowns.

Pre-recorded speeches were played on the stadium’s screen, starting with a shared statement by seniors Mya Peterson and Brayden Brandvold, who called for a moment of silence “for justice, for peace and love for each other” after addressing the “ongoing trauma” experienced nationwide over the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, and due to the effects of the pandemic.

Senior Austin Mann took the stage and sang the national anthem, which was punctuated by blasts of fireworks, before Prosper High School Principal Dr. John Burdett introduced the class of 2020’s salutatorian Trett Johnson, who plans to study biomedical engineering at Texas A&M University.

In his speech, the teen thanked his parents for their support as well as his sisters - 2014 Prosper valedictorian McKenzie Johnson, and college soccer player Peyton Johnson who was recently diagnosed with cancer for a second time.

“Despite everything that life has thrown in my family’s way, them seeing me give this speech is proof that every hardship and obstacle has been worth fighting through and overcoming, and I am forever blessed to have the family I do,” Trett Johnson said.

Burdett recognized members of the district’s board of trustees and several groups of students, including those graduating in the top 10 percent of the class, as well as a host of district teachers, employees and community leaders before introducing valedictorian Jack Robnett.

The teen, who plans to study sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, said, “While we may or may not recognize it, today we are governed under the wrongful authority of productivity,” which is defined by academic achievement, hours worked and income earned, among other factors. “We are asked to overexert ourselves in the pursuit of achievement and peak performance.”

Robnett said he and his classmates together “must redefine productivity,” which “ought to be the success with which our actions refill our cup - actions that guide us to authenticity, that improve our communities, that improve ourselves. … Each of us have an incredible worth no matter the career we pursue, the school we attend or whatever we choose to do or be once we leave this stadium.”

As the seniors’ names were announced and they made their way across the stage to accept their diploma covers, many posed for photos with their arms raised and fists clenched in a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement.

A large, bright moon had risen over the east side of the stadium by the time the final graduate’s name was called - a moment that elicited cheers and applause from the students as well those viewing the ceremony from the stands.

“All right, bring the second half of the class in so we can graduate them as well,” Burdett joked after returning to the podium to introduce a senior slide show, which was followed by senior class president Tyler Windon, who gave the benediction.

Prosper ISD Superintendent Dr. Drew Watkins addressed the crowd, saying the ceremony was “the first and hopefully only pandemic PHS graduation.”

In his 18 years with the district, he said he had gotten to know many of the graduates.

“This was certainly not what anyone scripted to finish out your senior year. … I don’t have any pearls of wisdom to offer you to answer all of life’s questions. You will have your own unique challenges in the coming months and years of your life. I will just offer this: I encourage you to work to be slow to anger and quick to forgive and be kind to all in your path.”

Given that it had "been a graduation like no other,” Watkins said, “it’s only fitting that we end your time in Prosper in a manner that has never happened before and likely never will again.”

He started a countdown that plunged the stadium into darkness for a massive fireworks show rivaling any Independence Day display ever seen in these parts.

Following the pyrotechnics, once the stadium lights returned, miles of green and white streamers and a shower of confetti rained down on the graduates. Both were carried into the stands by a breeze that also served to quickly clear the air of lingering smoke.

It was a fittingly festive finale to both an unusual academic year and an over-the-top ceremony.

[Prosper ISD / Courtesy photo]

Jack Robnett, Prosper High School's 2020 valedictorian, poses for a photo after receiving his award during the school's graduation ceremony June 5.