Park View High School seniors draped in red, white and blue filed into George Mason University’s Patriot Center Friday morning to receive their diplomas.
Principal Virginia Minshew asked students if they believed they learn something from every experience.
"Change is what makes life interesting," Minshew said. "The choices you have made will define you."
Having said that, she introduced Park View High School’s top-10 students, including salutatorian Kimberly Bien and valedictorian Rachel Bingaman. Bien introduced the guest speaker, Anna-Maria Rivas McGowan.
Park View High School graduate and NASA project manager Anna-Maria Rivas McGowan returned to her alma mater Friday, to give the Class of 2006 some advice.
After she graduated in 1987, Rivas McGowan received a bachelor of science in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue University and a master of science in aerospace engineering from Old Dominion University.
Rivas McGowan has 13 years experience in aerospace engineering and technology development and is one of NASA’s leaders in smart structures technologies for aerospace vehicles.
"Own your future," she said. "Mold it. Make it what you want it to be. Question every single decision you make."
Rivas McGowan described growing up in Sterling in the '80s. Sterling had one stoplight and it was actually cool to like Michael Jackson, she joked.
"Park View High School is much more diverse now," Rivas McGowan said.
The audience applauded.
"I was embarrassed by my culture, by the sound of my parents' accent" Rivas McGowan, who’s parents are from Trinidad and Tobago, said. "Now I am so proud of it. It makes me who I am. Embrace your culture."
In closing, the rocket scientist wished the Class of 2006 good luck.
"Success may mean starting a church, starting a family," she said. "Define your mission."
Rachel Bingaman delivered her farewell. She choked back tears as she described growing up in Park View’s hallways.
"It will never be the same," Bingaman said. "We have no other option but to grow up."
At the close of her speech, she referred to the children’s movie "Finding Nemo." She reminded parents to let go of their children and for children to "just keep swimming, just keep swimming."