HARLINGEN — “Believe in yourself.”

Those three words in Katelynn Renteria’s valedictorian speech conveyed power last night as she and her fellow seniors graduated from Early College High School.

About 80 graduates, their families and their friends gathered at the HCISD Performing Arts Center as the students concluded one period of their lives and began another.

“It’s the proudest day of my life since his birth,” said Sandy Perez, who had come to see her son Nolan graduate.

She appreciated the years he’d spent at ECHS where he also took college courses at Texas State Technical College.

“I feel very confident that he will succeed in college because he has already been exposed to the rigors of college classes,” she said. “ECHS really prepares students.”

The graduating seniors spoke excitedly of their years at the school.

“I am incredibly excited,” said Michael Machner, 18.

“It’s been a long four years,” he said. “The most challenging part was probably keeping up with all the work we had to do and staying organized.”

Out on stage, Katelynn, already a published author, spoke of all the possibilities that lay ahead.

“Set goals and expectations, not limits and doubts,” she said. “Love yourself enough to give 110 percent in everything you do, and never stop yourself from dreaming. After all, you are the future. Shape it to be what you want your success to look like.”

Her mother Patricia couldn’t be more proud.

“Katelynn is an amazing role model for the youth not only in our community but beyond,” she said. “She works very hard to be in the service of others.”

Salutatorian Mercedes Vasquez congratulated her classmates.

“Ya’ll, we made it!” she declared. “Each and every one of us has something unique and inspiring to offer this world that we are now stepping into.”

She spoke also of the many paths through life they would take.

“Our paths might be very different,” she said. “Some of us are going into college to pursue majors, others into the military serving our country, and some pursuing their own endeavors. Although tonight is where our paths diverge, we must all remember where it all started, at ECHS.”