Heritage Park students receive diplomas

The 48 members of Heritage Park High School’s class of 2024 marched into the future Friday afternoon, after receiving their diplomas at a ceremony at the Owensboro Convention Center.

The students were going on to their plans of college and of joining the workforce, making Friday the last day the entire graduating class would be together.

Alicia Hernandez, the class speaker, had worked hard to get to the ceremony. As a young mother helping raise her two younger brothers, Hernandez juggled her family obligations, work and school at times.

But Henandez said she was supported by Heritage Park’s staff, particularly counselor Tanya Lancaster and by former school Family Resource Youth Service Center coordinator Amanda Cornelius.

“I met a couple of wonderful people,” Hernandez said of Lancaster and Cornelius. “They helped me out in the rocky times” and were “my support when I needed it.”

“I worked so hard to get here right now,” Hernandez said of graduation. “I feel I’m in a better place; I feel proud of myself. I got myself here, and a lot of people got me here.”

The school’s mascot is the phoenix, which symbolizes the issues the students overcome to achieve their success.

“We’ve been a family for a while,” Principal Michelle Ruckdeschel told the class. Ruckdeschel said the faculty and staff at Heritage Park focus on building relationships and getting the the students.

Quoting from the film ‘Lilo & Stitch,” Rucksdeschel said the students were “Ohana,” which means “family.”

“You are going to be our Ohana for a long time, because once you’re a Phoenix, you’re always a Phoenix,” Ruckdeschel said.

Kaden Martinez came to Heritage Park to finish a final few classes, which helped him graduate with his class on time. At Heritage Park, Martinez learned coding, and completed his math and history credits through a combination of classroom work and independent study.

The staff at Heritage Park also were a big help for Martinez as he completed his studies, both in spurring him to finish his work, and by checking in on him when he needed it.

Martinez said his first block teacher, Harlie Roark, was intuitive about when he needed a lift.

“She kind of just knew when I was down and didn’t have it in me to do the work that day” and would help get to the cause of the problem, Martinez said.

Other staff members “would just make sure I was good in life,” Martinez said.

Martinez, who is going on to Owensboro Community & Community College this fall, said graduation was a special moment.

“It’s unreal I made it here,” Martinez said. “It’s something I never through I’d get to.”

Hernandez, who will also be attending OCTC this fall, told the graduates in her address to work toward what they want in the future.

“You have to motivate yourself,” Hernandez said. “You have to want to be successful. No one is going to do that for you.”

In her closing, graduate Sydney Stone told the class they can craft their own futures.

“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it’s a matter of choice,” Stone said. “It’s not a thing to be waited for, it’s a thing to be achieved.”