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Forget the pomp and circumstance. Thursday afternoon was party time for Countryside High School's 364 graduates. After sitting quietly through moving speeches by two of their classmates, the maroon-robed seniors pelted each other with yellow carnations, blew whistles and played minivolleyball with an inflated condom. Meanwhile, their teachers and administrators tried to keep the ceremony under control.

School Resource Officer David Krieger intercepted a beach ball in midflight and deflated it.

"This is supposed to be rather formal proceedings, and we'd like to have some decorum," Krieger explained as the seniors erupted into cheers halfway through their alma mater. He said he understood why the students wanted to celebrate halfway through the 75-minute graduation at St. Petersburg's Bayfront Center. "It's hard to hold their attention."

After marching formally to their seats at precisely 4:30 p.m., the graduates listened as their principal gave them somber advice for the years ahead.

"Survival in this environment is going to require some amount of stamina from our youths," L. Roy Sullivan said.

Valedictorian Meredith Barman's hands were shaking as she lined up before entering the arena to face a crowd estimated at more than 4,000. Despite her jangled nerves, she managed to address the audience with a confident, firm voice.

"To the class of 1991, good luck," she said, just before the presentation of diplomas. "May God truly bless you all."