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Graduates considered a special class

Hernando High officials says the Class of 2000 has left its mark on the school - from the number of scholarships to a Saturday morning graduation.

By ROBERT KING

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- Every high school graduating class likes to feel it is special.

Some, like Hernando High School's Class of 2000, seem special to others, too.

And it wasn't just because the 245 seniors who graduated Saturday morning were the first class in anyone's memory to vote to have commencement on a Saturday, and in the morning.

"This class has been an extraordinary class," assistant principal Richard Wilson told the seniors Saturday moments before their graduation ceremony began. "You've had higher grades, more scholarships, and your behavior has been excellent."

Principal Elaine Sullivan said the reverence and respect the class displayed at its recent baccalaureate ceremony made that event the best and "most glorious" she has ever attended. "This class has been thoughtful, creative and just great to be around," Sullivan said.

That specialness continued through their final day at Hernando High.

Senior Dee Dee Parnell stirred the graduation crowd at the school's gym with her versions of The Star-Spangled Banner and the class song Remember Me This Way, which produced a standing ovation from her class and much of the audience.

Class president Danielle Pugh choked back tears to get through the speech she made to classmates who, she said, gave her "an overwhelming sense of pride."

Valedictorian Mary Sheridan Watkins, owner of a 4.307 grade point average, got through her speech but broke down shortly after taking her seat again. "As we look at ourselves we realize that high school is really only one page in the book of life," she told her classmates. "Every life is a story, and now is the time when we decide what kind of story it will be."

To be certain, the Class of 2000 has been tested.

Their final year was plagued by bomb threats that forced so many evacuations that it nearly became routine. If that wasn't enough to remind them of the world's dangers, a chain-link fence was erected around the campus as a barrier against intruders with mayhem on their minds. In the school's 111-year history, never until now has it had a security fence.

Other dangers hit home in February when one of their classmates, Danielle Marie Werner, was killed in a car crash that also took the life of Central High student Chelsea Druzbick.

A seat among the graduates was left empty for Werner on Saturday. Another chair, up front near the speaker's platform, was adorned with a bouquet of yellow roses in Werner's honor.

But this was a class that also knows how to laugh.

Class treasurer Matt Hammond described the painstaking research that went into picking the colors for the Class of 2000: banana yellow and grape purple.

Salutatorian Polly Jean Werner, who is not related to Danielle Werner, described how as freshmen her class worried about being "bullied around, beaten up and stuffed into garbage cans." In describing their sophomore year, she referred to the definition of sophomoric: "very sure of one's knowledge but poorly informed and immature."

Werner, owner of a 4.2358 GPA, said sometimes she thought graduation would never arrive. "But, looking back, I don't think I want to leave just yet," she told her classmates. "I'm going to miss everything."

As a group, the Class of 2000 earned more than $1.6-million in scholarships, and 45 percent of them finished with a grade point average of 3.0 or better.

Most planned to celebrate during big family gatherings -- barbecues, picnics and swimming parties -- made bigger because of the Saturday timing. Previous Hernando High commencements have been weeknight affairs, often on Mondays.

"I love it because tonight I'm going to have a big party and, being on a weekend, everybody can come," senior Brian Haygood said. With zeal, he recited some of the menu items: barbecue, baked beans and potato salad among them.

If the Saturday morning had a drawback, it was the 10 a.m. start. Some seniors, fearing they might oversleep, stayed up all night. Many, like Crystal Smith, took other precautions.

"I set my alarm clock on a really horrible classical music station and turned it up really loud so it would wake me up," she said.

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