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A night of firsts for Weeki Wachee High graduates

BROOKSVILLE — Weeki Wachee High School teacher Kim Jones stood on a small stage, trying to corral the sea of green-clad graduates.

"It's time; it's time," she called over the microphone. "We need to start lining up."

The seniors buzzed with anticipation as they formed ranks, shouting, laughing and mugging for cellphone cameras. They practiced how, after just a few short speeches, they would cross the stage and accept their high school diplomas. Some tested their handshakes.

Just moments from walking to the domed church, where family members and friends awaited, they started to chant.

"WEEKI WACHEE," they cheered, stretching out each word and clapping. "WEEKI WACHEE."

Graduation is a time to be excited and proud, but these seniors had extra reason:

They were about to make history.

On Thursday evening, the 211 seniors making up Weeki Wachee High's Class of 2013 became the first graduates in the school's history.

It's an honor many seniors said they will treasure.

"I think we overcame a lot of adversity," said graduate Allison Leip, 18. "A lot of schools hated on us because we were the newbies in town."

Nicole Lecours, the class salutatorian, echoed a similar sentiment in her speech before the crowd gathered at Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville. She said the school was ridiculed when it opened. The sports teams, she said, were the butt of jokes. No respect.

After three years, that has changed.

"At the end of our senior year, everyone respects the name of Weeki Wachee High School," Lecours said.

Erik Perse, also an 18-year-old graduate, said people will not only remember the class's legacy; they'll see it, too.

He said the seniors got to do a lot of the decorating in the new school, which opened in 2010 with only freshmen and sophomores.

"A lot of people will see the stuff I painted on the walls," Perse said. "So that's cool."

Alina Burden, an 18-year-old graduate, called the experience exciting and adventurous.

"Nobody really knows what to do," she said. "We're kind of the guinea pigs."

Shelley DeWese said she came all the way to Brooksville from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to see her first granddaughter, Ayanna DeWese, graduate from high school.

"I love it," she said. "It's historic."

Thursday's ceremony — while the first for the school — went smoothly. With the exception of the occasional nod to its historic nature, it was similar to a lot of graduations.

Principal Troy LaBarbara quoted a Sammy Hagar song. Superintendent Bryan Blavatt talked about the Greatest Generation. At least one School Board member's name was mangled. (But who can pronounce Guad-agnino, anyway?)

The valedictorian talked about how it was an exciting but sad time for graduates. Parents, family members and friends screamed as their favorite graduates crossed the stage — someone even fired an air horn.

The students moved their cap tassels from right to left. The graduates threw their hats in the air. Psy's Gangnam Style filled the speakers. Everyone hugged.

Jones, a teacher who helped organized the ceremony, said the entire experience was exciting.

"It's something that nobody else is going to do," she said. "They're the first ones."

But, alas, there can only be one first.

That was an honor reserved for Alyssa Agner, whose name came first in the alphabet.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

A night of firsts for Weeki Wachee High graduates 06/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, June 7, 2013 8:56pm]
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