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Eighteen-year-old Alicia Nagda, slaps hands with her friend Kaleigh Thomas Wednesday evening, May 26, during the beginning of the Lecanto High School commencement ceremony.

Almost 400 Panthers roared in a new milestone of their lives.

Under a clear sky the evening of Wednesday, May 26, dressed in glistening green robes blowing in the breeze, 383 graduates of Lecanto High School’s Class of 2021, took center stage at their campus athletics field before stands of cheering friends and family.

As the school’s band played a rendition of Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” cadets of the high school’s Army JROTC greeted the two columns of processing seniors with a route of unsheathed swords held overhead.

Before the students took their seats at the forefront, waving to their parents and teachers as they did, the crowd went quiet to hear the school’s senior members of its chorus sing the national anthem.

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William Miller, 18, waves Wednesday evening, May 26, at family and friends as the Lecanto High School graduation ceremony begins.

Ron Allan, Lecanto High’s activities director, introduced the school’s 38th commencement exercise.

“It’s great to see everybody in this stadium,” he said. “Like this ceremony, the Class of 2021 is unique; they were born post 9/11, lived with technology their whole lives and now they’re going to graduate in the midst of this pandemic.”

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Lecanto High School graduates make their way toward their seats Wednesday, May 26, as graduation exercises begin.

"It’s obvious you've set yourself apart as extraordinary class," Principal Jason Koon added. "It's been my honor and privilege to serve you as your principal. ... You will always be a Lecanto High School Panther."

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Many of the Lecanto High School graduates sported masks Wednesday, May 26 as the proceed through graduation exercises. Makayla Hogan, 18, waves to family as graduation excercises begin.

Name by name, Lecanto High graduates walked toward their diplomas handed out by Koon and Citrus County School Superintendent Sandra “Sam” Himmel, before they turned their golden tassels toward adulthood.

Carly Smith gave a speech reflecting on her class experiencing COVID-19, economic crises, acts of civil injustice and a presidential election within the span of their high school tenure.

Carly Smith

Carly Smith

“Through all of the struggles, difficulties and unrest, we have persevered,” she said. “Most important of all, we continued to push ourselves to complete our coursework, even when the going got tough, and got ourselves here today. We have survived the unthinkable.”

Speaking to her classmates about their futures, Anjli Deven said the same discipline that got them through recent, unprecedented times will help them overcome obstacles in the way of their next dream.

Anjli Deven

Anjli Deven

“When our motivation has run out ...we rely on our discipline to overcome issues without our emotions, instincts or external forces deterring our accomplishments,” she said. “Use your discipline to overcome your failures, to overcome your regrets. Most significantly, use your discipline to succeed in every goal you set for yourself.”

Austin Recta, class president, recognized school staff, parents and his fellow graduates for coming together to overcome challenges, like having the end of a junior year cut short by a pandemic.

Austin Recta

Austin Recta

“We were all put to the test; not just students, but family, staff, teachers,” he said. “The uncertainty and hardships made us value our relationships even more. The isolation by ourselves reminded us just how much each one of us means to one another. We are survivors.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Buster Thompson at 352-564-2916,  bthompson@chronicleonline.com or visit tinyurl.com/yxn2ahso to see more of his stories.

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