Killeen High School graduation

The Killeen High School Class of 2021 celebrates graduation during the school’s traditional senior circle and school song to conclude the commencement ceremony Thursday at the Bell County Expo Center.

BELTON — Capping four years of unexpected obstacles, challenges and loss, as well as extraordinary learning and friendships, the Killeen High School Class of 2021 graduated Thursday in its final act together.

Valedictorian Victoria Wright told her class of 436 graduating seniors, “we have also learned how to persevere.”

She challenged her peers to consider one final lesson before leaving high school, to step outside of the identity that others might impose. Wright said her equation for success is God, discipline, consistency, motivation, happiness and determination.

The top-ranked KHS graduate urged classmates to believe in themselves and make choices outside of limitations others might set.

When adversity comes, she said, it comes with opportunity to grow.

Salutatorian Mara-Kay Gutierrez recalled as a freshman hearing a senior say high school flew by quickly.

“Standing on this podium today, it has become clear that high school has gone by in a flash,” she said.

The past four years, she said, has brought political upheaval and violence, as well as the challenge of COVID-19 and a winter storm that showed the fragility of life.

“I also remember my first homecoming, my first high school soccer game, my first kiss, the friends I’ve made and lost and the many teachers who provided unconditional support and advice,” Gutierrez said.

Following the awarding of diplomas, the new graduates circled the arena in a long-held KHS tradition to form a senior circle, move their tassel and sing the school song.

“It feels amazing,” said Feyrah Melendez Perez as she made her way out with her class. “I think what I’ll remember most is how supportive everyone was for me.”

New graduate Milan Kemp-Murray said it was a surreal feeling to come to the end of high school.

“I will never forget going on spring break our junior year and never coming back,” he said, delivering the welcome for the evening. “If COVID-19 taught me anything, it was to never take anything for granted.”

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