Church hosts special graduation for Santa Fe High School seniors

SANTA FE, Texas (KTRK) -- A large group of seniors took the stage in a prelude to Santa Fe's scheduled June 1 graduation at Arcadia Baptist Church in Santa Fe Sunday evening.

Churches traditionally recognize soon-to-be graduates. At this church, the pastor paused to recognize the high school shooting Friday that claimed the lives of two teachers and eight students, and injured 13 others, including a school police officer.

"I would like to tell you you're going out into a wonderful world, but I can't," said interim Pastor Jeri Watkins. "You're entering a war zone, and it's the world and it's a spiritual warzone. There is evil in the world."

Each graduate, more than 70 who are members of the church, was applauded wearing the caps and gowns they'll wear when they receive their diplomas from Santa Fe High School in 11 days.

On Sunday, they were given a standing ovation by a crowd that filled the sanctuary and spread into the lobby.

"For a lot of us, graduation is the last thing on our minds," said Todd Penick. "People lost family that day and I lost a friend that day. That's more important than some ceremony that has you going off to the rest of your life."

Penick and other classmates have reached out to the families who lost loved ones in the shooting.

"Some people I'm close to were close to those who passed away," said senior Michael Valentin. "I've been a person there for them to talk to and to comfort them."

After the ceremony, seniors posed for cell phone pictures. Their parents were the photographers. There were smiles and laughter, which has been missing in Santa Fe for several days.

Penick smiled, but also considered how a shooting in a place no one could have imagined has changed his priorities.

"After something like this, you hug everybody you love and hold them tight. It makes you realize how quickly that can be taken away," he said.
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