Eddie Franco flipped open the program, gleaming white with sharp red print, thumbing past the school seal and scanning his eyes over rows and rows of familiar names, until — at last — he found his own.
“Those four years that you struggled to do everything you needed to do — it’s finally paid off,” he said moments later.
A total of 570 students celebrated graduating from Odessa High School on Saturday night at Ratliff Stadium, filing onto the field and walking the stage amid cheers and waves and shouts from supporters who packed into the bleachers as the sun set on a sweltering day, and on those hundreds of tenures at the red-and-white school on the west side.
“I think everybody is relieved,” Franco said, speaking earlier in that daylight, in the rehearsal area in the parking lot just outside the stadium. Franco plans to next take steps toward joining the U.S. Marines.
“It’s exciting,” Daniella Franco added, chiming in from beside him, near their seats in the staging area arranged in alphabetical order.
“I still feel like we’re going to go to school Monday or something. Like, I’ll have my backpack waiting by the door and everything still,” she said, noting how surreal the feeling is.
Daniella, a former Bronchos soccer standout, is set to go to the University of the Southwest in New Mexico and play on a scholarship. Whether graduation has hit her or not, come Monday, she’ll be closer to that next stage in her life than she will be to returning to the school on Golder Avenue — and the same went for all her classmates there Saturday during and after the commencement.
“It’s just crazy to think that we’re going into the world now,” said Miguel Fonseca, the OHS basketball star who’s going to play at prep school next before trying to play in college.
“Finally, we made it,” Dunice Garcia said, adding she was excited to graduate and find out what her next step will be. “After so many years in school, we finally get to say that we made it.
“We are finally here — in front of everybody.”
‘Everybody’ included plenty of supporters from friends and family to faculty, with school principal Mauricio Marquez being one of them, watching over his first commencement ceremony concluding his first school year as the principal at Odessa High.
Marquez scanned a sea of square caps Saturday night knowing, under some of them, there were familiar faces he had seen grow up over the years.
Marquez first became a principal at Blackshear Elementary in 2007, and spent seven years as principal at Crockett Junior High starting in 2010, so in some ways, he had moved up through the ECISD system alongside several of the students he saw graduate Saturday night.
“It’s been an extremely rewarding experience all year long, filled with many mixed emotions today,” Marquez said. “Some of the kids told me they’re excited, they’re sad, they’re scared of leaving school. I told them, ‘All those emotions are part of graduation night.’
“It’s truly been a blessing,” he added, on spending his first year at Odessa High with that group.