Joel Alvarez, center, points and smiles to his family as they cheer for him during Belton High School’s graduation ceremony Thursday at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton.

FME News Service/Josh Bachman

BELTON — A record 618 Belton High School graduates earned their diplomas in 2013, and family, friends and Belton ISD staff members recognized their accomplishments Thursday at the Bell County Expo Center.

“This is the largest class in the history of Belton High School,” Superintendent Susan Kincannon said. “This is an exciting time in the life of our graduates and their family members, a time of great joy and celebration.”

Senior class president Carlee Kemp quoted Dwight D. Eisenhower’s D-Day speech, paying homage to the fact that Belton students were crossing the stage on the 69th anniversary of the Allies invasion of Western Europe during World War II. “You are about to embark on a great journey … the eyes of the world are upon you … we will accept nothing less than full victory in everything to come.”

Like the soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy, Kemp said Belton graduates “have been taught and trained by the best and there is no room or reason for failure.”

Salutatorian Mitch Anderson spoke of the importance of being true to one’s self. “Discovering and accepting who you are is important,” he said, noting that sometimes discoveries can lead a person down a dark and difficult path. “The journey into the soul is not for the faint of heart, but those who force themselves onward succeed.”

Valedictorian Jacob deKeratry talked about overcoming the evils of a world filled with immorality.

“It’s no secret contemporary society is full of immorality, injustice and evil, and hate crimes are a daily headline,” he said. “I believe the graduates of Belton High School supersede that morass and are capable of deep compassion, humility and loyalty and recognizing goodness.”

Thursday also was something of a graduation for BHS Principal Kathy Cook, in her last year as top administrator for the school.

“It’s been absolutely wonderful,” she said. “It’s a great night to celebrate Belton’s biggest and best class.”

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