BELTON — The crowd of parents, friends and loved ones roared on May 28 as the Copperas Cove High School band began to play the traditional graduation tune “Pomp and Circumstance.”

The crowd’s roars drowned out the periodic loud rumbles of thunder that shook through the Bell County Expo Center in Belton.

In total, 450 seniors filed into their seats on the floor in preparation for walking across the stage.

Several of the Class of 2021’s seniors offered their thoughts on the excitement about having an in-person graduation.

“This year, at first, it was kind of disappointing with football season having games canceled left and right, especially because I’m a cheerleader and that’s one of my happiest moments of the year,” said Isabella Dickson. “But I’m actually very excited we got to have a normal prom, a normal graduation. I’m really happy.”

While addressing the graduates and their families, Superintendent Joe Burns said he was glad to be back in the expo center.

“Tonight, it’s good to be back home again,” Burns said. “To see these graduates seated out here, being properly recognized, and graduated.”

Senior Savanna Walker said that she believes it is a sign of normalcy.

“This year has been so crazy,” Walker said. “Like, walking across the stage is just like a sign that world is kind of getting back to normal, but also that we did it. We’re the first class to graduate normally with COVID.”

In 2020, Burns and board of trustees president Joan Manning greeted the graduates individually over the course of three and a half days at Lea Ledger Auditorium on the high school’s campus.

Burns joked during his address that he could probably recite every single note of “Pomp and Circumstance” because they heard it continuously last year.

Dickson, who plans to attend Texas State University in San Marcos, said she was proud.

“It is very exciting, and I feel very proud of myself and my class,” Dickson said.

The senior class president, Emma Miller, said she is thankful the pandemic did not prevent her from realizing a goal she set for herself in her freshman year.

“My main goal when I walked in freshman year was to have a speech at graduation in Bell County Expo Center,” Miller said. “So, definitely, to not graduate at the auditorium, but to graduate here, has been a huge blessing.”

During her speech, Miller, who will attend nursing school at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, implored her classmates to stay true to themselves.

“I hope you all continue to believe in yourself, as much as I believe in each one of you,” she said. “Understand that each one of you is going to do amazing things in life.”

Graduating seniors will be attending school as far away as the University of Alaska-Anchorage and Florida State University.

Among the 450 graduates, 75% will either pursue post-secondary education or go into the military.

In total, the seniors earned more than $1.7 million in scholarship money, $200,000 of which were for athletic scholarships.

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