ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – TLCA (Texas Leadership Charter Academy) Abilene’s first graduating class will be walking the stage Friday, making history for the school and the city.

Founded in 2015, TLCA Abilene added a new grade level each year, and this year, the class of students have finally made it to graduation.

Gabriel Mendoza was in the fifth grade when the charter school opened in 2015, and said he remembers it like it was yesterday. 

“I was shy and scared of everyone,” recalled Gabriel. “I didn’t talk to anyone my first day.” 

As nervous as Gabriel was about meeting people as a pre-teen, today, he said he couldn’t imagine life without his eight other classmates. These classmates became his best friends and the people with whom he will make history.

Zaidryn Moreno-Nobles, salutatorian of this class, was right next to Gabriel every step of the way. 

“We’re like best friends. We’re like family,” Zaidryn said. 

In the past eight school years, Zaidryn said he’s seen the school transform completely. As the school grew, so did he. The senior said he could feel a weight, sometimes, of being a leader younger students may look up to. 

“It means a lot to me because I’ve, like, been here since the beginning,” described Zaidryn. “Just seeing it grow in the way it has, it’s just great.”

Principal Gretchen Reicheneker called her senior class “legacy” students. They lead the future generations of students at TLCA Abilene.

Because much larger classes follow behind the senior class of just eight, Reicheneker said this graduation will teach the school how to do the ceremony.

Not only getting these seniors to the graduation lineup, Reicheneker said this position of leadership as a student will help them in post-diploma life.

“They’re used to being leaders for a campus, and they’re – almost all of them are – very outgoing, and have those leadership skills to take with them in the next adventure,” explained Reicheneker. 

While the TLCA Abilene’s 2023 graduating class is only made up of eight students, the 2024 class currently has about 55 students. The largest class? Principal Reicheneker said that’s got 85 students!

Even though the school is growing, for Gabriel and Zaidyn, they say it is the close-knit community within the school that gave them an education experience of a lifetime. 

“Three of us are going to the same college together and living in the same dorm,” Gabriel beamed. 

Some of these students are graduating with Lighthouse honors, and several are in the National Honor Society.