Spain Park celebrates class of 2022 with graduation

Published 10:58 am Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By MEG HERNDON | Staff Writer

HOMEWOOD – The first thing people ask Lydia Faris after she tells them she’s a Syrian refugee is, ‘Why Alabama?’ and she told the crowd at Spain Park High School’s class of 2022 commencement ceremony that she really has no clue why.

“What I do know, however, is there’s a reason we stayed, there’s a reason I have called this place home,” Faris said. “It’s because of my Spain Park community.”

In Syria, Faris’s home was in a brick building in New Aleppo, and in her back yard was a little garden of Jasmine.

“Jasmine flowers, they symbolized home for me,” Faris said. “And when I left my jasmine flowers to immigrate to America, I was scared. Leaving home was scary. Change was scary.”

But one thing that made Spain Park less terrifying was the Spain Park student community.

“I’ve seen Spain Park support students regardless of differences, regardless of my differences,” Faris said. “We all enter the same building each morning. We all learn to love one another, to be kind and to support each other.”

Faris said she was grateful to her classmates for how they treated her without judgment and with open arms.

“Spain Park has become my garden of jasmine flowers,” Faris said. “We’re all leaving this place behind, leaving our garden of jasmine flowers. Change can be scary, but it’s necessary. Change allows us to grow, offering us a chance to enrich our lives and perspectives that would otherwise be intangible. Change allows you to discover the jasmine flower present at different stages of our lives. So I advise you to use change as a tool to reflect on past lessons, while fearlessly carving your firm path.

“And so as we embrace the new change in our lives, never forget where you come from and always search for the jasmine flowers the world has to offer,” Faris said.

Valedictorian William Gasser recounted a story of when his friend was skeptical of whether or not Gasser could achieve the highest GPA in his class. He took the skepticism in stride and used it to fuel his ambition, which lead to him proving that friend wrong.

“I can assure you that you will face opposition, there will come a time, whether it be your boss, your adversary, or even your own friend when someone will question your ability to succeed,” Gasser said. “From personal experience, I can say if I had let those individuals hinder my success, and take what I worked so hard to achieve, I would be left so hollow and filled with a lifetime of regret.”

Gasser pushed his fellow classmates to view doubt as a means to perseverance.

“When the world tempts you to give up your dreams and declares you incapable, will you yield or will you fight?” Gasser asked them.

Elle Taylor, the Senior Class President, reminisced on how fast the time flew by between being “top dogs at berry” and now waiting to get their diplomas. Taylor emphasized the importance of taking time to reflect on the time in between those years and not forget the special moments.

Taylor also thanked those that helped the graduates get to where they are today.

“We would not be sitting here today without our teachers, coaches, friends and most importantly, our parents. Through their examples, encouragement and even challenges, we’ve all grown in various ways over the past four years,” Taylor said. “The legacy at Spain Park that this class has left is one of perseverance, adaptation and hard work.”

Selma Maric, the Student Government’s President reflected on how she moved to the school district from Salt Lake City, Utah in 2015. She arrived halfway through the school year and knew no one. She was scared and bitter that she had to move across the country. However, on her first day, many of her classmates came up to her and made her feel welcome.

“Last summer I heard the phrase always make time for a cup of coffee,” Maric said. “Coffee in its original state is dark and bitter, unappealing to most of us sitting here. But with just a little sugar and love, it can be so much more.”

Maric said that the coffee represents the new experiences and ideas that present themselves to the students as they move forward, but it is up to them to take that coffee and sweeten it. It is up to them to take advantage of their experiences and to learn from those around them.

“I know that it’s scary and maybe something that we’re not entirely comfortable with. I mean seven years ago I was a shy, petrified 11-year-old who was definitely not comfortable with it, but you guys were,” Maric said. “You reached out to me, and now as you leave high school and close this chapter of your life I encourage you to do it again. Say hi to those around you and learn from them. And whenever you can, make time for a cup of coffee, sit down with a new friend and learn. Continue pouring a cup of coffee for those around you. You’ll make their day just a little bit sweeter.”

Spain Park High School’s Principal Peter Giangrosso took time to recognize the faculty and staff from Spain Park feeder schools, emphasizing the privilege the students had due to the first-class dedication from their previous schools.

He also told the students that once they walked across the stage, they would be asked to do three important things.

“First, after the celebration of this ceremony, society will ask you to become an advocate for yourself,” Giangrosso said. “No longer will society expect, and in many cases, allow your parents or anyone else to be your advocate. It will be up to you to make the decisions and choices and to live with the outcome of those decisions and choices. The responsibility will be solely on your shoulders.”

The second thing that will be asked of them, Giangrosso said, is that the generation before them will ask that they solve the problems that they couldn’t solve and right the wrongs and they couldn’t right and care for them in their old age.

The third ask of them will come down the line, Giangrosso said.

“There’s a generation not yet born that you will bring into this world, and they will ask you to give them the tools, the moral integrity, the work ethic and the education to solve the problems you could not solve, to right the wrongs that you could not right and to care for you in your old age,” Giangrosso said.

“The tasks before you are great, the tasks before you will be challenging and sometimes insurmountable. But you who sit before us tonight will accomplish these tasks, and it is my belief that you will be called the next greatest generation,” Giangrosso concluded.

The Spain Park High School Class of 2022 was offered admission into 154 colleges in 36 states and four countries. It was also offered a total of $22.9 million in scholarships, $9 million of which was accepted.

To see all the photos from the graduation, visit our photo gallery here.