ST. CROIX — Brilliant. Optimistic. Laudable. Diverse. These were the words used to describe St. Croix Educational Complex Class of 2019 at Thursday’s graduation exercises.

Faculty and staff led the way as 160 graduates filled the gymnasium’s main floor seats to the concert band’s lively rendition of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

Air horns reverberated as family and friends cheered loudly and rounds of applause filled the air.

Complex Principal Genitta Richards kicked off the ceremony with a friendly reminder to all that “it is always a great day to be a Barracuda!”

She acknowledged guests including Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., acting Insular Superintendent Carlos McGregor, Education Commissioner designee Racquel Berry-Benjamin and keynote speaker Kurissa Vialet, daughter of former Complex principal and Senator Kurt Vialet.

Richards highlighted the numerous accomplishments achieved by the graduating class, including more than $2 million in academic merit-based scholarships.

Of the 160 graduates, 119 will continue on to colleges and universities, 14 are enlisting in the military, another 14 are continuing on to technical and trade schools and the final thirteen are undecided about what’s next.

“Your success is our success and it is already in your DNA to take the torch to succeed,” said Richards. “If your achievements mean you have to stand by yourself, then stand tall and stand firm.”

McGregor offered congratulations to all the graduates for the hard work that brought them to this moment.

“For all the late night studies, lack of sleep, and sacrifice, your reward is here. Your reward is now,” he said.

Education Commissioner designee Racquel Berry-Benjamin congratulated the graduating class on all their accomplishments. She shared with the crowd that she could feel the “Barra’ Pride” in the gymnasium being that she was a child who grew up on the sea.

“My words of wisdom to you are to always be your authentic self. Know who you are, know your strengths, know your interests and always stay true to your value.”

Berry-Benjamin urged graduates to be creators and not users, to use their innovative skills and their abilities, and to teach.

“Teach in whatever way or whatever forms it comes. Give back to somebody.”

Bryan reminded graduates of how amazing God is as he recounted a story.

“God puts obstacles in your way everyday to make you stronger,” Bryan said. “He does things that you won’t understand at the time.”

He urged the graduates to ask God directly through prayer what it is he is trying to teach them in that moment.

Keynote speaker Kurissa Vialet reminded graduates that no one in the room could define success for them.

“Life is waiting to either embrace you or swallow you whole,” said Vialet. “I urge each of you to seek an education of sorts, whether it be college, military, apprenticeship or trade school.”

For those who were unsure of what was next, she recited the age-old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” She pleaded with them to use the summer to figure out the next step in their chapter.

Class of 2019 salutatorian and senior class president Mojania Denis offered a warm welcome to everyone in attendance. Denis said that he never thought he would be captured in a picture onstage standing in front of his class as president and salutatorian.

“Today is a day of thanksgiving without physical food,” said Denis. “However, what we are digesting are praises for our hard work and a congratulatory remarks for a job well done.”

Denis shared how he would reflect on each passing year at Complex as he was promoted from one grade to the next.

“Freshman year taught me about friends; my sophomore year was a sequel to that friends lesson; my junior year taught me about love; and my senior year taught me about the importance of supporting and motivating my fellow peers to become the best version of themselves.”

He also shared that he was proud to be his parents’ son and that he knew that this day was bigger for them than it was for him.

Class valedictorian Micaya Labadie thanked her class for showing up, not only on graduation day but for all four years of the exhilarating rollercoaster called high school.

“It wasn’t always easy,” said Labadie, “but you made the effort and I applaud you for it.”

She reminded her class that their success was not about reaching the destination of high school graduation, but about every step they took to get to this point.

“Our success lies in the fact that we made progress, made memories, and made the most of what we had,” she said.

Labadie asked her class to join her as she applauded all of their supporters, the soil that nourished them along the way, families, loved ones, counselors, principals, teachers, and faculty and staff. She followed by thanking her parents for continuously pushing her and believing in her dreams. Labadie closed her speech with a quote from author Mark A. Cooper: “Life has no remote. Get up and change it yourself.”