When “Pomp and Circumstance” started playing Thursday evening at Citrus High School, the large crowd stood, cheered, yelled and started taking photographs of the Class of 2021.

“Tonight we are going to introduce 79 students. Seniors, this is the moment you dreamed about. Every one of you have a story tonight. We salute you. You are not considered a high school dropout. You are a high school graduate,” said Scott Braden, principal of Citrus High School after the Pledge of Allegiance. “You've worked very hard to reach this day, even in the midst of a pandemic, and we're very proud of your accomplishments. Tonight is called a commencement. It's the end of your high school experience but it's the beginning of a great new adventure and season in your life.”

As the graduating class and crowd continued with hearty clapping and cheers, the awards and scholarships followed with Ines Rivera, Dean of Counseling, talking to the students.

“Every one of you sitting here tonight have proven to be 'Overcomers.' You did not let this pandemic hold you back. With all the ups and downs with family, friends, and school, you were able to stay focused, keep motivated and make it through,” she said.

The students are proof, she said, hard work and determination definitely pays off, and no one can take their diploma away.

“It belongs to you. You have earned it. And you have proven wrong anyone who has ever said that you would not graduate. So, congratulations to you guys. You are all my heroes.”

Rivera then presented scholarships to be used towards graduates' college expenses from different local clubs and organizations from the Porterville community.

The recipients and the awards were Sara Govea, the Norman Norris foundation; Rachel Arguello, the Francis Noble Gault Family Scholarship; and Florentino Linas, the Eric Hewitt-McQueen Memorial Scholarship.

In addition, the Tule River Tribal Council awarded Dale Baga, Rebecca Manuel, Tristan Perkett and Ronnie Santos, a Tribal Ceremonial blanket, a graduation-incentive monetary award, and a full-ride scholarship to college.

“Now comes the most memorable part,” said Braden. “We have 75 (graduates at the ceremony) here tonight and all will be spoken about,” Braden said.

CHS staff each took turns calling the graduates forward, saying a few words, and congratulating them as students took their diplomas and were photographed before returning to their seat.

One by one the graduating class members walked to the stage. Several times the instructors talked about students who thought they wouldn't make it, or whose family and friends doubted them, and then talked of how they proved those individuals wrong.

One teacher talked about Victor Castillo, calling him the kind of student every teacher dreams of having in class, and of Vincent Melendez turning doubt into hope and being the first in his family to graduate on time.

The stories continued as one by one each graduating senior was called forward.

And at the end, as they were all declared graduates after moving their tassel from one side to the other, the crowd once again exploded in cheers.

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