HARLINGEN — They’ve had a long and challenging sojourn to graduation — and they’ve made it.

The seniors at the Harlingen School of Health Professions not only confronted the hardships of the pandemic, they stepped up to help with vaccination clinics to bring COVID infections under control. Their medical training at HSHP qualified them to fill that crucial need, and they acquired vital experiences in the process.

At their graduation ceremony Saturday at the Harlingen Performing Arts Conservatory, Evelyn Perez spoke about the power of attitude in her salutatorian speech. She referred to a family conversation recently in which the concept of metaphor was discussed. More pointedly they addressed the metaphor, “if a door shuts, another opens.”

“My version is that ‘if a door shuts open it.’ It’s a door, that’s what they do,” she told the crowd, dressed in her teal green gown with gold trim.

“Now you’re thinking ‘what if it’s locked, what if there’s something blocking it, what if there’s do not cross tape on it,’” she said. “All these ‘what ifs’ are just excuses you make because you’re afraid of what will happen after you get your opportunity. Don’t be afraid of what’s behind that door. And to my fellow peers, don’t make excuses for yourself.”

There was a hum, an energy running through the auditorium as graduates once again joined for in-person commencement. The anticipation of successful lives emboldened by the challenges of the past year was clearly evident on their faces.

Superintendent Alicia Noyola conveyed that enthusiasm well.

“It’s exciting to see their faces light up,” she said. “It’s great to be back.”

Parents were passionately joyous about the occasion.

“My son, Kevyn Kruse, is graduating,” said Jennifer Bly. “I am happy, I am sad, mostly proud.”

Walker Alexander, 18, said he felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

“I have proven that I’m ready to move on to the next chapter of my life,” he said. “I really liked being here at HSHP. I’ve made a lot of friends, a lot of good connections. Since our classes are relatively small, I’ve made a lot of close relationships and I really learned a lot.”