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Hernando High graduates get soaked in ceremony before postponement

BROOKSVILLE — Graduating seniors at Hernando High School marched toward the school's stadium Saturday night amid light sprinkles, with heavy black clouds looming nearby.

Then the skies opened.

By the time the students got to the field and in their seats, the ceremony had dissolved into a soggy mess.

Purple graduation caps wilted in the heavy rain. Gowns were drenched. Makeup streaked faces. Carefully styled hair was ruined.

While the rain poured, school officials tried to get through the ceremony. They skipped speeches and some of the pomp and immediately began reading names. They got partway through the D's when they finally had to call it off.

Kendyll Dhans got to the edge of the stage when the retreat was sounded.

"The whole novelty of the experience has been shattered," she said.

While a makeup ceremony was scheduled for Monday night, Dhans said it would not be the same.

"Part of me doesn't want to go," she said. "That's not something you do twice for high school."

Hernando principal Leechele Booker blamed the incident on an unexpected turn in the weather.

As she and her staff looked at the radar, it appeared the worst of the weather would stay to the south of Brooksville.

"We thought it would pass us over," she said.

She said the students were the biggest supporters of moving forward and completing the ceremony in the rain.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt, who attended the ceremony, agreed with the decision to halt the ceremony.

"We based our decision on the best information we had on the weather and where it was moving," he said. "We were wrong."

He said the ceremony was postponed when there was an indication of lightning.

Everyone was initially told to go to the school gym. School officials had planned to continue with the ceremony there, streaming video into the adjacent performance arts center. But after some people protested because they would not be able to see the graduates in person, Booker decided to go with the Monday rain date.

"I made a decision along with the superintendent that we were in a no-win decision," she said.

This was not the first Hernando graduation that has drawn complaints.

In 2008, more than a dozen irate family members were blocked from entering the gym by law enforcement after the facility reached capacity. They didn't want to watch their children via closed-circuit TV in the performing arts center. After that, graduation was moved outside.

Monday night's makeup ceremony was held indoors at Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville. Graduates who walked across the stage Saturday evening walked again.

Not everyone was upset by the delay.

"I thought it was the best time of my life," senior Jesse Ramirez, 18, said of Saturday's deluge.

He said his extended family came to town and got soaked. Before a celebratory dinner at Beef 'O' Brady's, they had to go to the Dollar General Store and buy some cheap replacement clothes.

"It was funny," Ramirez said. "We were all bumming it. It was so much fun."

Staff photographer Octavio Jones contributed to this report. Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Hernando High graduates get soaked in ceremony before postponement 06/03/13 [Last modified: Monday, June 3, 2013 11:27pm]
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