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LEMOORE — Around 50 Lemoore Middle College High School seniors could be seen Friday walking into the stands of West Hills College Lemoore’s Golden Eagle Arena during their graduation ceremony to give gifts to those who were significant in their lives.

This ritual sets the high school’s graduation ceremony apart from others, and is only made possible because of the school’s small size. Each student was asked to think of a person who had been significant to their personal achievements and give them a small gift, memento or note, said Principal Chuck Gent.

During this “token of thanks,” the seniors left their seats to find their family members while Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” played on the speakers. There were lots of pictures, hugs and maybe even a few tears during this moment of the ceremony.

Class president Steven Gong talked about the 720 school days the class of 2017 has been together, and the journey it took to get the students where they are today. As students reflect on their time in high school, he said he will look back on his time as a period of “growth and evolution.”

“The 52 of us donning caps and gowns are walking tonight,” Gong said. “We walk to celebrate the achievements of our high school careers. We walk to signify the end of publically required education. We walk, because at graduation practice, they told us we couldn’t run.”

Gong told his class that all of their collective shared and not-shared experiences have molded them into the young adults they are now. He thanked his parents, the school’s teachers and staff, and everyone in attendance at the ceremony for supporting the students’ first step into the “real world.”

Class salutatorian Julia McCreary and class valedictorian Brittany Coykendall gave a speech thanking all of the families, staff and friends who have supported the students throughout not only their high school years but all of their lives as well. They also encouraged the students to pursue something in life that makes them happy, while also cherishing the present moments.

For the past seven years, the high school’s staff has presented an award to a graduating student who they feel is an “embodiment of the school and culture” that the staff has tried to create, said Gent. He said they always strive to create an environment of collaboration, caring, compassion, individual determination and success.

The award became known as the “Panther Award,” and Gent said staff puts their own money together to make a $250 scholarship for the winning student. This year, Alexis Ricks received the award.

“This year’s winner defines perseverance,” Gent said.

Gent said Ricks endured the academic decathlon class for three years, and finally only a couple weeks before the county competition, received the call from coach Allen Tong to be a part of the team. Not only did she excel on the team, but Gent said Ricks went on to medal at the state competition.

Ricks talked about the struggles and challenges each of the students went through to get the academic foundation each person now possesses. She said being a Panther means taking personal accountability on and off campus, because they represent their families and school.

“Being a Panther is not for the faint of heart,” Ricks said. “We here at LMCHS do everything with pride.”

Ricks said every student gives 100 percent, and it was an honor for her to win the award, especially knowing that there are many other students at the school who do great things and deserve the award just as much as she does.

“To the graduating class of 2017 — this is not the end, but the beginning,” Ricks said. “Once we get these diplomas, the decisions we make after that are all up to us. The unknown future can be scary, but just remember we have a great foundation and a strong foundation with our faith, love and support from families and friends, but most importantly, we will always be Panthers.”

Ricks advice to the graduating class was to find their passion, stay bold, take more risks, embrace change and never doubt themselves. Her speech was met with thunderous applause from both her peers and the audience.

Gent pointed out five seniors who along with their high school diplomas, graduated with an associate’s degree from West Hills: Coykendall, McCreary, Christianne Evasco, Talha Khan and Alisandra Macias. He also said 26 students are graduating with honors and there were 30 students graduating with over 20 West Hills College units earned.

Other highlights of the ceremony included a key note speech by Spanish teacher Oscar Lopez, who was selected by the students to give the speech, and a musical performance of Coldplay’s “Speed of Sound” by seniors Martin Almaraz on keyboard and Esmeralda Gonzalez on guitar.

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