More than 250 students crossed Munson Stadium to accept their high school diploma Saturday evening as Denison High School held its graduation ceremony. Saturday’s ceremony include speeches from the class salutatorian, valedictorian and Dr. Sonya Myles Sloan, of the class of 1990.

Saturday’s festivities marked a first for the school district as the 2018 class represents the first class to have spent all four high school years at the new Denison High School.

In his address to the class, salutatorian Connor Massenburg encouraged his graduating classmates to live morally as they step out into the real world and adulthood. As a part of this, he encouraged everyone to follow the three tenets of respect, integrity and purpose.

In speaking on respect, Massenburg referenced the golden rule and how it should apply to everyone regardless of their differences in opinion or background.

“How many times have we thought about what it truly means?” Massenburg asked.

Valedictorian Courtney Gillespie said it was an important day for the students, but despite being a rite of passage into adulthood, the students do not have to grow up over night

“Most of you are probably waiting for the part where I get all serious and talk about what the future holds,” Gillespie said. “But as I began to write this speech, I thought to myself, we have the rest of our lives to grow up and be formal and sophisticated. So, why not take things back to a time when everything was simple as we prepare ourselves for the life outside high school?”

The commencement address was given by Sloan, who became the first African-American woman to be a general surgery resident and orthopedic surgery resident in the history of the Baylor College of Medicine.

Sloan spoke on the concept of “paying it forward” — taking the favors and help that one has received in life and passing it on to someone, who will do the same.

For Sloan, that person was her first grade teacher, who encouraged her to dream big about the possibilities and her potential.

“There are some people that have been instrumental that paid it forward for you can be where you are today,” she said.

For graduate William Horning, his school years seemed to go by quicker than expected, but he said he was ready for graduation day and to move on to the next stage of his life. By graduation time Saturday, he said the butterflies had never really set in.

“It actually feels like to has been much shorter than it has been, but they say time flies when you are having fun,” he said.

Over the past four years of high school, Horning said, teachers and educators have prepared him for the next step as he continues his education in college. Horning said he plans to attend the University of Texas at Dallas and study biomedical engineering. Following college, Horning said he wants to learn to make prosthetic limbs.

“I feel like they (my teachers) have prepared me for this, at have at least prepared me enough,” he said.

For Sydney Hosey, the gravity of the day had already started to set in.

“I think not knowing what is ahead is a bit nerve-racking,” she said. “I think in school we kind of know what is coming ahead in the next year.”

Hosey said she plans to start her studies at Grayson College and get an associate degree in criminal justice. From there, she plans to attend Sam Houston State University to receive her bachelor’s and master’s degrees with plans to become a detective specializing in K-9 divisions. Hosey said she is uncertain if that might bring her back home to Denison some day.

“That kind of job can take you anywhere,” she said.