The most important thing in the world is family, Gary High School Salutatorian Charles Balfanz told his peers.

Family loves you for who you are, he said.

“It doesn’t matter if they are your real family or not, If you love them, care for them, would do anything to protect them, they’re your family... I’ll be more than happy to call” everyone here tonight family, he said.

Thirty one students in the Gary High School Class of 2023 earned their diplomas last Friday at graduation, held in the gymnasium in front of friends, family and Gary ISD staff.

Both Balfanz and Valedictorian Miller Powell congratulated their fellow seniors on making it to the finish line. Powell, in his speech, particularly thanked the teachers and coaches and other school staff.

“As I get older, it become more evident just how much you all love everyone here, how much you love your students,” he said.

Powell took time in his speech to recognize the many accomplishments of the Class of 2023, including being the only silver banner rocket team in Texas; having an entrepreneur that owns a business as a classmate; awards for their theater students; awards for their student athletes; having a professional wakeboarder as a peer; and how many seniors have become great chefs over the years.

“It’s really bizarre to be here because I remember our eighth grade graduation,” he said. “I remember just standing in line, coming up here and thinking about how we’d be graduating up here. It seemed so far away, but here we are.”

Above all, Powell said he wanted to talk about his relationship with Jesus Christ and encouraged his peers to seek that relationship themselves.

“Embrace him and embrace that relationship going to your adult lives,” he said.

Balfanz recalled his theater journey, the first play of which was “Shipwrecked” and featured classmates Katie Thomas and Powell. Fast forward five years, and the trio just finished up with a second-place performance at the state One Act Play contest.

“I hope they continue to read the script of life so that maybe they have an idea of what comes next,” Balfanz said of Thomas and Powell, before thanking other friends and his family for also sticking with him through thick and thin.

He had one last piece of advice: “Just love each other.”

“We all grew up together, and whether you like it or not, we’re all one big family,” he said.


Regional Editor

Meredith Shamburger oversees newspapers in Carthage, Kilgore, Henderson and Marshall. A Carthage native, she has been with M.Roberts Media since 2016. Before joining the staff, she served as a reporter with the Dallas Morning News.