To the cheers of family and friends, Southwest Early College Campus high school graduates, donning caps, gowns and honor cords, made their way across a stage one by one as their names were called Tuesday night.
Students marched with the thought that they very well may be the school’s final graduates.
In a few weeks, 89-year-old Southwest, which has a deep local history, is slated to be closed by Kansas City Public Schools.
So for this year’s graduating class, the evening’s commencement ceremony at Unity Temple on the Country Club Plaza was a night of celebration and farewells.
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“Southwest became family to us,” class president Wasiba Hamad told the 65 graduates in attendance. “We shared so many good times together and found out that Southwest would be open just this one more year for us to share these last memories together. But no matter where we go in life, once an Indian, always an Indian.”
The temple auditorium erupted in applause.
But it also was a night for the class to remember one who did not make it to graduation.
“We lost one of our very special students this year,” Principal Earl Williams said. “We are going to put special emphasis on her memory tonight.”
Daizsa Bausby, a promising Southwest senior, was found dead on March 21 in a south Kansas City motel room. Police are investigating her death as suspicious.
The 18-year-old cheerleader, who academically was at the top of her class, had admission offers from more than 10 colleges and $84,000 in scholarships at the time of her death.
A gold academic honor cord; an orange, black, and gold academic hood for the associate’s degree that Bausby would have received along with her high school diploma; and a photo of her filled the chair she would have occupied among Southwest graduates.
Graduates wore pink ribbons — Bausby’s favorite color — and buttons covered with their classmate’s photo. They room paused for a moment of silence in her memory.
Hamad in her speech called Bausby a “beautiful friend.” She said that “the loss of Daizsa affected the whole school” but that the senior class was especially hurt by her death.
“Daizsa was disciplined, selfless, free-spirited and so much more,” Hamad said. “She was going to become something great. We all know this.”
Bausby was supposed to speak at the graduation as class salutatorian. Instead, her friend India Woods stood at the podium in her place and dedicated much of her address to Bausby.
But first Woods did a little dance. She had promised Bausby months ago that she would dance on the stage at graduation. And she shared with the class how numb she’d felt and how sad many of them were, hearing about Bausby’s death, “because Daizsa was so close to making it,” Woods said. “It just didn’t seem fair.”
In the end Woods challenged her classmates.
“Whatever you do after this, do it big,” she said. “Do it for yourself. Do it for Daizsa. Turn it up for Daizsa. Laugh for Daizsa. Scream for Daizsa. Celebrate for Daizsa. Southwest class of 2016, we made it.”