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Chapter closes, but new book awaits

By JAMES THORNER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 26, 2002

LAND O'LAKES -- The Party Crew shipped out in style from Land O'Lakes High School in a Friday night shower of beach balls, Silly String and party poppers.

Illuminated by a nearly full moon looming over a football goal post, the class of 2002 stomped the Gator Stadium turf for the last time to get their diplomas.

Words flew as student leaders took the podium to bid adieu to their class, which dubbed itself the Party Crew.

"I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony. I don't know where to begin," senior class President Jolene Hite said as she launched into a speech laced with quotes from Gilda Radner, Helen Keller and Ben Franklin.

Class salutatorian Dina Perez started her address with a Shakespearean flourish: "Friends, Americans, classmates: Lend me your ears."

Headed to Duke University's chemistry program this fall, Dina urged steadfastness on her classmates.

"If you've got yourself a dream, work hard, because your dreams do come true," she told the assembled 327 graduates seated in the middle of the football field.

Valedictorian Meagan Small recited the events, both famous and infamous, that occurred on May 24, the date of graduation night: The astronomer Copernicus died, the Brooklyn Bridge opened and Josef Mengele was appointed medical officer at Auschwitz.

Meagan will start her college career at the University of South Florida with the goal of being a geneticist.

In addition to Dina and Meagan, Land O'Lakes produced one of Pasco's only two National Merit Scholar Award finalists in graduating senior Kyle Anderson.

At last, as parents surged onto the field with cameras, students filed in alphabetical order to get their diplomas, from Jessica Able to Amber Zimmerman. They were dressed in the blue gowns with gold-ribboned medallions.

Principal Max Ramos reminded students that the commencement ceremony, which lasted less than 90 minutes, shouldn't be treated as one of life's closing chapters.

"Perhaps you see graduation as an ending," Ramos said. "To commence means to start."

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