The end of senior year in high school is often tinged with excitement and nervousness. But the goodbyes will be particularly poignant for Connally High School’s valedictorian and her longtime journalism teacher, who have made school history together.
Alyssa Chavez will graduate Friday as Connally’s first student to compete in the University Interscholastic League state journalism contest all four years of her high school career, her teacher Lori Kreder said.
Chavez placed in UIL editorial writing in Austin in early May, and while she celebrated the accomplishment, she also knew this would be her last opportunity to compete with Kreder at her side. As Chavez trades her cap and gown for college life at Texas A&M University, Kreder is also leaving Connally High after 16 years, Kreder said.
Kreder will retire at the end of this year to take care of her father, who was diagnosed with dementia earlier this year, she said.
“Knowing neither of us are going to do it again, it’s really sad,” Chavez said. “The (journalism) program has been doing well, and I’m glad we could end on a good note and have a good four years, but it’s sad to think both of us are leaving.”
Chavez found her way to Kreder’s classroom as a freshman one afternoon, after Kreder reached out to her through Chavez’s photojournalism class. The pair spent several days after school studying the UIL contests together. Over her four years in high school, she would have Kreder for seven different class periods.
Her freshman year, Chavez qualified for state in feature writing and editorial writing. She didn’t place, but Kreder said it is rare for a freshman to make it to state at all.
“The writing maturity isn’t there for most people, but for Alyssa it was,” Kreder said.
Chavez’s first year of competition then blossomed into finding a core group of students at school she could connect with, which made her want to continue aiming for state, Chavez said.
“The feeling of being successful and getting to that level, I was like, ‘Why would I stop now, when obviously this kind of worked for me?’” Chavez said. “Also, the people I was around, the upperclassmen, they were some of my really good friends my freshman year. Just having a journalism family, it was really meaningful to me.”
Chavez went on to place in all her regional UIL journalism contests her sophomore year and single-handedly won the regional team championship, Kreder said. She qualified for two state events, was named state champion in headline writing and placed in the top 10 in feature writing.
But this year was a bit trickier, they said. The pressure was definitely higher compared to previous years, Chavez said.
Because of her father’s illness, Kreder missed 30 days of school during the spring semester, which is prime competition season.
“I attended only one practice meet with her and I could not help her much,” Kreder said.
Then at the regional competition, Chavez fell sick with an acid reflux issue, which made it difficult to complete the writing task in front of her, she said. But if she could focus long enough to get through the contest, she knew she would be OK, she said.
And in fact, she managed to qualify for state again.
“It’s kind of surreal,” Chavez said. “Because when you think of all the people you’re competing against, and the different judging that could go into it, and you still make it to that level for four consecutive years, it’s crazy to think I did that. Ms. Kreder was a big part of pushing me and it wasn’t all about winning. It was just about trying your best.”
But Kreder has never had a student like Chavez, she said. And Chavez’s success can be credited to her own effort and desire to write well, be a leader in the classroom and go beyond what’s expected of her, Kreder said. Chavez makes it look easy, Kreder said.
“I’m going to miss just seeing her and having her around,” Kreder said. “And just having the security of knowing she’s there to take care of business. If I were coming back next year, I think the missing would even be worse, because what’s a year without her?”
As both prepare to leave Connally High School for good, the two hope to leave similar legacies behind, they said.
Chavez hopes a new group of students will come in with the same passion she had for high school journalism and UIL competitions, she said.
Kreder hopes whoever replaces her in Connally’s journalism program will make it even stronger.
“I feel like I’m leaving in good company, not just with Alyssa, but the others I’ve had for so long in various areas of journalism,” Kreder said. “I wish I could have left a little bit more on my own terms, but life said it’s time. It’s bittersweet, that’s the best way to put it.”