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Land O'Lakes graduates hear unique speech


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001

LAND O'LAKES -- It was an evening of mixed emotions Friday night.

Shouts of joy mingled with tears of sadness as 328 seniors at the Land O'Lakes High School graduation took their first steps into the future.

Tears were shed for Heidi Palmer, who died in January. Her parents accepted her diploma as her classmates gave a standing ovation.

Senior class vice president Ashley Patton also shed tears during her address when she said goodbye to her friends.

"I wish every single one of you the best of luck," she said. "I will miss you."

As the graduates walked onto the football field to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance, they waved, smiled and carried deflated beach balls under their gowns.

Throughout the ceremony, the balls popped up and bounce around among the graduates, causing parents and friends to laugh and snicker.

Tara Arison, student council president, told her classmates they were now responsible for their destiny.

Paul Benford, the salutatorian, encouraged his classmates not to be afraid of taking risks and being different.

"Defy the conventional," he said. "Enjoy your lives."

The class valedictorian, Victoria Masters, followed Benford's advice and gave a tribute to her favorite author, Douglas Adams, instead of a regular speech.

"Always carry a towel," Masters said he wrote. "Always be prepared or at least look like you are prepared."

Jason Lipinski's two grandmothers, Eleanor Lipinski, 84, and Rose Cozzi, 81, came to his graduation and were proud.

"It is a thrill seeing my grandson graduate," Cozzi said. "He is the apple of my eye."

Lipinski will attend Newberry College in South Carolina on a soccer scholarship.

Max Ramos, principal of the school, said he was very proud of this class after being together with them for seven years, from middle school through high school.

"Thanks for the memories," he told the class, which earned more than $756,000 in scholarship funds.

At the end of the ceremony, after everyone received a diploma, Ashley Patton had the class turn their tassels.

Beach balls filled the air above the graduates as they began to celebrate.

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