By Andrew W. Griffin
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — Southmoore High’s Senior Class President Sarah Zubair said three things distinguish her graduating class — endurance, commitment and spirit.
Graduation at the Cox Convention Center on Saturday afternoon was a a time of laughter through tears, triumph over tragedy. Moore graduations went on as planned this weekend despite that a tornado nearly ripped the town in two and Southmoore grads seemed determined not to be kept down by Monday’s tragic events.
Alyson Costilla had to graduate without her mother, Terri Long, 49, in the audience. Long was a victim of the tornado. The mother and daughter were recognized during the commencement ceremony.
Despite the sorrow, it was clear it takes a lot to get a SaberCat down.
Principal Roy Smith said 92-percent of the 413 Southmoore graduates plan to continue their education.
Among the proud parents were Mark and Mandy Hodges, the father and stepmother of graduating Southmoore senior Eleanor Hodges.
“I am the proud papa,” said a grinning Mark Hodges, as his wife showed off a picture on her iPhone of Eleanor smiling in her cap and gown.
The tornado missed the Hodges’ home and Southmoore. Eleanor’s former elementary, Plaza Towers, was destroyed.
Eleanor, known fondly as Ellie to her parents, went out and helped others while power was out and the chaos of aftermath reigned.
“Pretty soon she’ll be going to Puerto Rico where she plans to study aeronautical engineering for NASA,” Mark Hodges said. “I want her to have a good life.”
It was an emotional 2013 commencement.
Bao Ngo, class Salutatorian, asked for a moment of silence for tornado victims.
Southmoore’s Rhythm and Blues group offered up the National Anthem,
Moore Public Schools Superintendent Susan Pierce said she has received love and support from folks all over since the tornado.
“You are being recognized around the world,” Pierce told the graduates, adding that this day they were going to celebrate the “accomplishments and successes” of the Class of ’13, even though their world “had been literally turned upside down.”
As the name of each graduating senior was called, cheers, screams of joy and the occasional air horn reverberated in the acoustically-challenged hockey arena.
“Some people ask, why do I live here in Oklahoma,” Pierce said. “That’s a silly question. Why wouldn’t people want to live in Oklahoma?”
The comment met with affirmation. Perhaps the shared experience of the recent tornado brought Southmoore and the greater community of Moore closer together.
“There’s just something special about this place,” Pierce said.
Zubair spoke following the changing of the tassels.
“There was a time when we were freshmen,” Zubair said. “Lunch was served at 10:15-ish and we were fed chicken, chicken and chicken. That struggle was definitely real.”
And over the next four years, Zubair said, the Class of ’13 stayed committed to reaching their goal of graduating from high school.
“And every single one of us kept our commitment to graduate,” she said, adding, “Senior year was definitely a trip.”
Concluded Zubair: “We are and always will be SaberCats.”