Madison Williams shakes Wylie ISD Superintendent Joey Light's hand after accepting her brother's diploma during commencement at the Taylor County Coliseum Thursday. Dylan Williams is recovering from a car crash and was unable to come to his Wylie High School graduation ceremony. He received a standing ovation from his classmates as his sister walked across the stage for him.
There were plenty of ovations at Thursday evening's Wylie High School graduation, but none more rousing than for Dylan Williams, who was not there.
The senior was critically injured in an auto crash after spring break and hospitalized. He still is undergoing rehabilitation for a head injury, Superintendent Joey Light said, and doctors did not give the OK for him to attend graduation.
In his place, his sister Madison, a WHS junior, accepted his diploma.
The crowd at the Taylor County Coliseum, where Wylie held commencement ceremonies for the first time, appreciated the moment.
"It was a standing ovation," Light said.
Madison Williams was in tears and her head bowed as she crossed the stage, he said. As she approached Light, he encouraged her to "stop and look at what they're doing."
Wylie graduated almost 260 seniors at its first ceremony as a Class 5A school. The Wylie ISD also streamed the ceremony online for the first time.
A second chance
If you didn't make it to a graduation or just want to read again what the valedictorians and salutatorians at the six Abilene high schools had to say, those speeches will be available online Sunday at reporternews.com. The val speeches will be published in Sunday's Other Views pages.
Philip Knowles, a retired B-1 crew chief who spent 20 of his 24 service years at Dyess Air Force Base, wore an Air Force baseball-style jersey to Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
U.S. flags attached to a vehicle flap in a brisk southerly wind Monday at the entrance Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. Attendees had to park on both sides of FM 600 to the south and north of the cemetery.
"I came to remember them all." A man who said he had served and knew some buried at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene sits Monday before the start of a Memorial Day ceremony. He holds a poppy given him moments before.
Will Holloway of Clyde, who put in 20 years in the Air Force, walked quietly by himself among the headstones at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene at a Memorial Day observance was starting Monday.
Salutes to the U.S. flag were given when the colors were presented Monday at a Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington spoke about service Monday, but especially by the patriotic residents of West Texas. Arrington was the speaker for a ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
The family of Ralph Edward Bragg Sr. decorated his headstone, newly arrived at Texas Veterans Cemetery at Abilene, with more than two dozen flags. Bragg moved from West Virginia to Abilene, dying just two months ago. His daughter, Jennifer Evans, and her husband, Ben, and other family members had hoped it would arrive by Father's Day but were delighted to see it for Memorial Day. The inscription "All my exes live in Texas" is a reference to the George Strait hit song; Evans said her father claimed to have had five ex-wives in the state, which is why he resided in West Virginia and not West Texas.
During his keynote address, U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington recognized Dennis Bruno, who served in World War II as a member of the Canadian Air Force. Arrington spoke at Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
Butch joined Jeff Jardine, junior vice commander for the Taylor County Disabled American Veterans office, at Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
Celestina Garcia showed her patriotism by wearing a flag bandanna to Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. Her father, Raul Garcia, served in the Air Force and was interred at the cemetery in 2017, she said.
The Air Force (from left), Marine Corps, Navy and Army were represented by the uniforms of four attendees at Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. The four were asked to stand, to applause from large crowd.
Staff Sgt. Tyler Quilty, who is stationed at Dyess Air Force Base, salutes during Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
A gun salute came at the conclusion of Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
A recording of "Taps" often is played at a veteran's graveside service but Abilene Community Band member Bob Johnson, of Ranger, played it live Monday at a Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
The colors depart Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
Yellow roses were placed by the Navy branch seal during Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. Gold Star parents were invited to take one to place at a headstone.
Adilynn Poteet, 6, reads the inscription on a headstone after Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene. She just finished first grade at Hawley Eementary School.
Sharon Miller on Monday photographs a headstone of a cousin's best friend. Capt. Jeffrey Walter Welch. He died in 2018, and family living elsewhere has not seen his headstone at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene.
The headstone of a Navy veteran, decorated with a flag.
Many who attended Monday's Memorial Day ceremony at Texas State Veterans Cemetery at Abilene wore patriotic clothing.
Military police officers tested their skills against each other Wednesday on an obstacle course at Dyess Air Force Base.
It was one of the activities planned for National Police Week, an annual acknowledgment of law enforcement and the ultimate sacrifice many of them have made.
The teams first were required to make a breach-entrance into a converted C-container, to rescue a large, filled sandbag. Then, each member carried one on their shoulder for the rest of the course.
The first obstacle was pushing a humvee 50 yards on a road, then another 50 back. The sandbags stayed in the vehicle with a driver, who was not part of the team, but who at least once accidentally steered the humvee into the grass when it was being pushed back.
Next was a box strung with rope that team members had to crawl through, followed by two giant tires they had to flip together several times. The final obstacle was an indoor target range similar to a video game. Each person shot at computer-generated "bad guys."
Senior Msgt. Pablo Rodriguez, of the 7th EMS at Dyess Air Force Base, fires an electronic M-16 during an obstacle course on base during a National Police Week event Wednesday. The military police officers were shooting with a computerized simulator. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
She remembers those days at Taylor Elementary, the product of the Abilene Independent School District said. For her, it was her kindergarten, second- and third-grade teachers.
And she’s hoping somewhere down the line, a student will approach her with the same idea she had seven years ago when she first began in the noble profession.
“Maybe one day one of my students will look back and say ‘I can do what Mrs. Harless did,’” she said.
Harless was named 2019 Abilene Education Foundation Elementary Teacher of the Year at a late-April Teachers in the Limelight Celebration. With it, she’ll be entered into the statewide competition next year for Texas Teacher of the Year, with an opportunity to move on to the national competition.
Today counts for 'shining stars'
For Harless and her classroom, though, the focus is on the here and now.
This second-grade class at Lee Elementary starts the day with greetings. They each greet Harless with a hug and find two other students to exchange pleasantries with, whether through another hug, a fist bump or a high five.
Molly Harless assists Hailey Shaw (left) and Layla Mangum during Harless' second-grade class at Lee Elementary School on Wednesday. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
They say their class motto, which the students decided at the start of the school year, and a daily chant to build up the energy.
Her “shining stars” spend more time in her classroom with her than they do at home with their parents or guardians, so it’s important, she said, to get things off to a good start each day.
Sure, it’s an economics lesson for the second-graders. They learn supply and demand, profit vs. expenses and more. But it’s also a lesson on compassion.
“Each year, I choose a nonprofit, and the students make keychains to sell,” Harless said. “This is an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. It’s awesome seeing their faces when the organization comes to pick up their check.”
Her students still are selling the keychains, which are made with beads. She said the students have a goal of $700, with the donation set to be made just before the end of school. They haven’t quite reached the figure, but there’s still time.
Outside of guiding little ones, Harless is a bit of an adventurer. She’s taken several mission trips to continents far away from her home city, along with study abroad opportunities when she was in college.
She’s even bungee jumped four times in Africa, possibly the most adventurous activity anyone can perform. Oh, and she’s also taken the plunge in Corinth, Greece.
What started when she was 12 has evolved, with her enjoyment coming not from being a tourist but from experiencing life in these other cultures as much as possible, she said.
“My favorite part of it is being dropped off in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “It’s not doing typical travel things but going into someone’s home, seeing how they live, eating food with them.”
While the very pregnant Harless – her child is due in July – isn’t sure exactly when her next trip will come, she’s hoping to eventually check another dream destination off her list soon: St. Petersburg, Russia.
Guiding other teachers, too
Harless has another mission, too. She’s interested in making sure young, first-year teachers have the support to turn their career choice into the life-fulfilling opportunity they likely thought it would be when going through training.
It stems from her own love of the profession, and she has no intention of letting that joy slip away from others.
“It crushes me when teachers who once felt like I do have it slip away,” she said. “So I want to work with them, encourage them, help them understand that they’re a professional teacher. There’s nothing better than that.”
In Harless’s classroom, the students are exposed to more than just the information a book tells them they need to know. Take, for instance, their recent fundraiser for the local branch of Cancer Services Network.
Kaylee Pitcher with her mother Darla Sterling at McMurry University. (Photo: Ronald W. Erdrich/Reporter-News)
Editor's note: Saturday is college graduation day in Abilene.
One took the traditional route to graduation at McMurry University; the other took an extremely nontraditional route.
Meet the mother/daughter duo, Darla Sterling and Kaylee Pitcher.
A family affair
Sterling is 42 and her daughter is 22.
Pitcher graduated in 2015 from Hawley High School and will be graduating from college Saturday in the traditional four years, which she said have gone by quickly.
Not so with mom.
“I feel like it drug out for 20 years,” Sterling said.
And, indeed, it did. Sterling has taken a remarkable path to graduation when she will earn a degree in nursing, with a minor in business. She wanted to make sure that her three daughters, Amber, Kaylee and Carlee didn’t have it as rough.
“My kids didn’t have an option,” Sterling said.
They knew they were going to college or into the military as soon as they graduated from high school. All three chose college.
Amber graduated from McMurry in 2016 and Carlee is on track to graduate next year from Hardin-Simmons University — the only non-McMurry graduate in the bunch.
“She didn’t want to do the same thing as the rest of us,” Sterling said. “And, her boyfriend went to Hardin-Simmons.”
The future begins Saturday
Sterling will pick up her nursing degree and Pitcher will get her degree in finance, with a minor in criminology. The evening will be spent at Sterling’s home, 16 miles north of Abilene, with a full house expected for the celebration.
Soon, both mother and daughter will be moving to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where Sterling wants to get a job as a nurse at a hospital and Pitcher will look for a job, probably in business.
“We’ll get there and then I’ll decide,” she said.
Sterling is glad that her daughter had the easier track to getting her degree. At Hawley High School, Pitcher was a star athlete in volleyball, basketball, track and softball.
“She was voted Iron Woman,” her mom added, proudly.
At McMurry, Pitcher ran track and played soccer before giving up both to concentrate on her studies and a job. She also is a member of TIP social club and Women’s Interclub.
Pitcher enrolled at McMurry in the fall of 2015 and her mother followed in January 2016. During the 2016 spring semester, Sterling and two of her daughters, Kaylee and Amber, were on the McMurry campus at the same time.
Pitcher was undaunted when she learned that her mother would be a college student on the same campus at the same time as she was.
“Cool, go for it,” was Pitcher’s reaction.
Way to work, mom
Sterling was 19 when Kaylee was born. She dropped out of high school and later earned a General Education Development certificate. She enrolled at Texas State Technical College and got training as a paramedic. She also worked overnight shifts at the Abilene State Supported Living Center to take care of her three girls during the day.
Sterling later worked at the Presbyterian Medical Care Mission, which led to her decision to become a nurse. After leaving that job in 2014, Sterling became a full-time student, taking classes at Cisco College for 1½ years before enrolling at McMurry.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she joked.
When Sterling enrolled at McMurry in January 2016, she was in for a surprise. Everything was done on the computer, unlike the last time she was in school.
“Trying to figure out how to do algebra online was crazy,” she said.
But she overcame that obstacle and many others en route to graduation. After Saturday, Sterling will settle into one job, with no homework to do and no children to watch over.
There were 11 motor vehicle crashes in Abilene in which unbuckled occupants sustained fatal or serious injuries in 2018, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
TxDOT's annual Click It or Ticket campaign seeks to reverse that trend.
From May 20 to June 2, Texas law enforcement officers will be increasing efforts to ticket unbelted drivers and passengers, especially those on the road at night, TxDOT said in a news release.
"Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of dying in a crash by 45 percent in a passenger vehicle and up to 60 percent in a pickup truck," according to the TxDOT news release.
To kick off the campaign in Abilene, a flipped, airborne sedan with mannequin passengers was set up Monday in the parking lot south of the downtown Abilene library branch.
The display included video kiosks that recounted the of a 16-year-old Spring girl who was killed in a crash after unbuckling to take a selfie.
A flipped, airborne sedan with mannequins was set up in the parking lot south of the downtown Abilene library branch for the Click It or Ticket seat belt safety campaign. The Texas Department of Public Safety set up the interactive display with video kiosks stations for a few hours Monday. The kiosks recounted how a 16-year-old Spring girl was killed in a crash after she unbuckled to take a selfie. (Photo: Laura Gutschke/Reporter-News)