Weathering the Storm Together: Lifelong Friends Celebrate Graduation
The invitation to the exclusive Bellaire soiree read: “A world pandemic cannot stop us from celebrating this important life event. Let's gather together at the Daniel Ranch and give our boys a live, in person graduation like they deserve. So proud of our young men! Go Class of 2020!”
Honorees Andrew Abdalla, Kenneth Alexander, John Bunge, Lee Carter, Coby Cho, Dominick Daniel, Davis Evans, Gene Gopon, Connor Oelsen, Zak Pham, Nathan Reichert, Alex Rico and their proud families gathered inside the loop on Mimosa Street at the “Daniel Ranch” – aka the empty lot where the Daniel family’s house stood before Hurricane Harvey. The group of young men, looked sharp in a variety of colors of cap and gowns, represent an array of local high schools including Bellaire High School, Lamar High School, Kinder HSVPA, The Heights School, Episcopal High School and St. Pius X High School. The majority of their high schools are holding graduations online-only.
It's hard for the parents to believe that 13 years ago, many of these young adults were just some ragtag Horn Elementary kindergarteners trying to find their neighborhood tribe.
Patty Daniel, mom of Bellaire High School senior Dominick, welcomed the group: “Since our kids weren’t able to celebrate their graduations with their classmates, we wanted to recognize them together as a family…because that’s really what these friends have become…like family. Today there isn’t just one valedictorian - they are all valedictorians.”
Each graduate was asked to say a few words. The seniors stood at the back of the lot, waiting their turn to speak. The skies had been a bit cloudy and the threat of some rain was on the horizon but, almost as if on cue, when the first grad stepped up to share reflections, the skies opened up and a torrential downpour began. The parents huddled under leaking nylon canopies.
The grads stood facing the elements. Mortarboards starting to fold inwards with rainwater. They looked at each other, smiled and, without making a sound, knew exactly what they would do - friends like these don’t need words to communicate. They just kept on giving their speeches. What was a little rain deluge amongst friends?!
Some seniors tried to read from their notes only to realize they looked more like wet rags. The audience strained to hear what the graduates were saying because the sound of the rain hitting the canopies and umbrellas was often louder than the speaker’s voice. But it was okay because at least the friends could still hear one another. There may have even been a few happy tears, but surely those must have just been raindrops.
“It's been a long road these past 18 years, but I'm glad I shared it with these guys,” shared Nathan Reichert. “But it always comes back down to these guys. No matter what I do, where I go, or how long I've been away, I know that I have a family to come back to. I love you all like brothers.”
Davis Evans said, “Most of us were within walking distance of one another and that made it easy to see each other all the time. The parents were really welcoming and let our large group hang out in their homes. They let us eat their food while tolerating our cacophony and our general nonsense."
Kenneth Alexander shared, “It’s very important to me to maintain these friendships. I think one of the reasons we’ve stayed friends is that we’re all good people. I have so many fond memories of attending Bellaire High School including dancing on the Emotions dance team. I’ll never forget all the times you guys would sit in the front row and cheer me on during performances.”
The grads recounted memories and shared funny stories. A few of the speakers may not have been one of “the guys” but over the years they’ve been part of the group. A few graduating ladies included at the event were Grace Evans, Mary Ferris, Sully Grubbs and Julie Fitsch-Mouras.
Grace, Davis’ twin sister, shared, “There are a million little traditions that exist amongst us that we’ve always kept going and I think that was a big thing in keeping us close. It’s really special to have a group that stays together through school changes, moving around and everything. I am hopeful we will all continue to keep in touch for a long time to come.” She beamed. “We have so many great memories including this graduation ceremony, which was so fun even in the pouring rain.”
Dominick said, “I feel like the graduation couldn’t have happened any other way, especially in light of recent events. Sometimes the world looks dark and gloomy or it just pours rain. Even with the endless rain, our group just plowed though our small graduation ceremony together. Even when the world looks dark, I know who I can count on to be there for me. That’s what our group is all about.”
This fun and wise group will be branching out into the world this fall. The grads are headed to Blinn College, Occidental University, Prairie View A&M, Texas A&M University, Texas A& M University Corpus Christi, Tufts University, University of Texas San Antonio, University of Texas Tyler, University of Houston and The University of Texas at Austin.
After the ceremony, one of the parents reflected, “I remember joining my son for lunch at Horn and he was angry about something. One of these friends was trying to be helpful and said, ‘When I’m upset, I count my blessings.’ My son asked, ‘What’s that?’ The friend replied, ‘You know, everything you are thankful for, like your parents are still married, your family has a house and food, you get to live in Bellaire, and you have a ton of friends.’ I had to step away for a few minutes because his words moved me in a way I really can’t describe. I’ve told that story countless times to new parents as an example on what to teach a young man about how to go through life, that being happy and grateful is a decision.”
Nice to know that even a decade later, this group of friends is still counting their many blessings…especially each other.
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