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Go Blue Streaks! Sebring High Class of 2021 graduates
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SEBRING — A year of challenges didn’t deter the Sebring High Class of 2021 of making it a successful senior year and a productive and rewarding high school experience.

About 315 seniors received their diplomas Saturday at the Sebring High School Graduation Ceremony at the Alan Jay Arena. Family and friends of the graduates (up to six guests for each graduate) showed their support and their proud feelings for the graduates.

Sebring High Principal Kim Ervin said, “Each year our football team has a motto that Coach Scott comes up with to guide their season. In the past he has picked ones like “All In,” “Bleed Blue,” and “How bad do you want it?”

This year’s motto was, “Overcoming Everything.”

“When I think about this school year and this class of students, I realize how perfect this motto was and how it not only described what our football team would have to do, but would also describe what our entire school would need to do to have a successful school year or a school year at all for that matter,” Ervin said.

You’ve all overcome so much to be here today and been willing to do so much to have the opportunity to attend school face-to-face. You’ve had your temperatures checked this year more times that you probably have in your entire life, you’ve masked up, gone through gallons and gallons of hand sanitizer, quarantined and COVID tested, she said.

Most importantly, with everything going on in our world, you’ve stayed united and not divided, Ervin said.

“We expect great things from each one of you,” she said. “We expect that you will use your gifts and talents to represent yourself and your family well and be productive members of our society.”

In her address, Ervin said this class has once again had to deal with the loss of a precious classmate.

“Cope will forever be in our hearts and minds. I know that he would tell you to be strong and overcome your heartbreak,” Ervin said. “He actually left you a message in your yearbook about living life to the fullest. Please continue to support each other and cherish your friendships.”

Sebring High senior Cope Garrett Brewer died in a vehicle accident May 8.

At the start of the Presentation of Graduates, Cope’s brother, Wade Caleb Brewer accepted the diploma on behalf of his brother. All in attendance offered a supportive round of applause during a touching moment of the graduation.

Superintendent Brenda Longshore said the graduates did an amazing job of persevering through a challenging year.

Senior Class President Mariana Chams presented the Class of 2021 History.

Chams said despite all the obstacles she wanted to share some of the successes the class had in the past year as she related highlights from sports and academics.

The Bailey Medal, which recognizes the graduating seniors who are the most considerate of others was awarded to Genesis Cornesea Shannon and John Allen Rogers.

The School Board Citizenship award went to Cheyenne Lynne Middleton and John Allen Rogers.

There were 14 recipients of the “Gwen Sanders-Hill” Scholastic Achievement Award.

Prior to the graduation ceremony a few graduates shared what graduation meant to them.

Jasmine Hinton said, “It’s a great day, special day, a wonderful day that I as waiting for this whole week.”

She will be going to work at Publix supermarket.

Brandon Robey said, “It’s a gateway to the next chapter in my life. Enjoying it for as long as I can.”

He plans to continue is studies at South Florida State College.

Isabel Rodriguez said, “It means everything to me. I finally did it. I accomplished what I have been dreaming for, for three years since I graduated early and now I can start and do my dream job like I planned on.

She will be enlisting in the Air Force and plans to become an aerospace engineer or munitions specialist or a para-jumper, which are the forces that jump out of planes.


AP class of 2021 turns tassels, tosses caps

AVON PARK — Friday’s open-air Avon Park High School graduation gave the class of 2021 students and parents room to spread out and celebrate a bit more at the end.

After turning their tassels, students tossed their caps before preparing to enjoy their newfound freedom. Alex Austin San Miguel in his “Class History” speech, recalled that they arrived at high school as freshmen, thinking they would get to do so much more than they had before then.

“It turns out, we couldn’t do that until this night,” San Miguel said.

He recalled how they spent a whole day outside — “Right over there,” he said, pointing to the northwest corner of the field — because someone wanted to blow up the school.

He also extolled the virtues of school-issued Chromebook laptop computers that took less than five minutes to load a page, and were useful to watch YouTube in Study Hall.

He also noted how, as the junior class, they had a spring break that stretched to two weeks, and then months of isolation from each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He recalled, coming back for senior year, how one football game ended when the lights failed, and another, where someone was blasting Miley Cyrus from a sound system, and “every single football player showed his inner white girl.”

Principal Danielle Erwin encouraged students to be kind and honest — “You cannot go wrong when you are kind and honest” — while Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brenda Longshore encouraged resilience, something the class of 2021, born in a post-9/11 world, could use to guide them through challenges in the future.

“Blaze new trails,” Longshore said. “Maintain your focus. You have endured much, but you have overcome much.”

In his commencement address, Joshua Farless encouraged his fellow graduates to seek courage by doing something that scares them, find friends among strangers, to accept and be OK that not everyone will like them, mend broken relationships and to put God first, so that they might share that relationship with others.

For the 87th time in 24 years, Alan Jay Wildstein of Alan Jay Automotive Group gave away a new car to a deserving student who had gotten all “A”s. Don Elwell had all the prospective students stand and then sit, narrowing them down to one, Aiana Joline Redding. On the front row, it took her a minute to get surprised to find herself the last one standing, recipient of a 2020 black Kia Rio with “Red Devil” pinstripe from the Florida Heartland schools in the “Autos for ‘A’s” program.

Recipients of the 2021 Gwen Sanders Hill Scholastic Achievement Award, for graduating with both a high school diploma and associate’s degree from dual enrollment were Mara Grace Elder, Dalton Slade Eures, Joshua Farless, Jocelyn Hernandez and Alivia Shaquan Hodo.

Hannah Joy Loomis and Samuel David Morgan each received the School Board Citizenship Award and the Col. F. M. K. Bailey Medal. Ashari Jowania McDermott, not present on Friday, received the Senior Honor Student Award.

Loomis gave both the invocation and benediction. Audrey Acosta led the Pledge of Allegiance, and Jamesa Blackstock performed “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Avon Park High School Jr. ROTC color guard — Adrian Beeching, Jaymi Culpepper, Dalila Eugenio-Badilla, Derek Garcia and Samuel Morgan — presented the colors as the banners fluttered in the evening breeze.

In Flanders fields
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SEBRING — The last Monday in May each year is set aside as a day to honor those men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our country and died while in service to the United States military. Memorial Day became an official federal holiday back in 1971, but the traditions of decorating the graves of fallen soldiers goes back further than that.

One such tradition, the poppy, can be traced back to a poem by Colonel John McCrae, a surgeon with Canada’s First Brigade Artillery during World War I.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly.

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

McCrae joined 18,000 Canadian soldiers near Ypres, Belgium in April 1915 during the Second Battle of Ypres, which lasted for six weeks. During this battle, the Germans launched their first large-scale poison gas attack of the war. The poem was an expression from McCrae of the grief he felt at the “row on row” of soldiers’ graves that littered the battlefield.

The vivid imagery of the red poppies against the backdrop of the white crosses became a kind of rallying cry for those who fought in World War I. The poem would go on to be published in the British magazine Punch.

McCrae passed away from pneumonia in 1918 while supervising a field hospital in France.

In a letter he wrote to his mother, McCrae said, “The general impression in my mind is of a nightmare … and behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed, and a terrible anxiety lest the line should give way.”

The poppy was adopted by the VFW in August 1922, as a symbol of remembrance of those who were killed in service. The VFW would go on to adopt the name “Buddy Poppy” and register it with the United States Patent Office in 1924. “Buddy” was chosen as a tribute to those comrades who didn’t come home from the war, or those who were crippled for the rest of their lives.

“The poem is the genesis of the tradition of wearing poppy flowers on Memorial Day,” said Mike Borders, Colonel, U.S. Army, retired, and president of the South Central Florida Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). “The message in the poem is the special relationship between soldiers. That we should not just remember them, but that we also have a special responsibility to the fallen to carry on.“

During its 75th anniversary celebration in 1997, the VFW adopted the Buddy Poppy as its official flower. According to VFW.org, “The VFW Buddy Poppy program provides compensation to the veterans who assemble the poppies, provides financial assistance in maintaining state and national veterans’ rehabilitation and service programs and partially supports the VFW National Home For Children.”

The poppy continues as a symbol of those who have gone before and given their lives so that we can be free.

This Monday, the American Legion Post 69 in Avon Park will host a Memorial Day program to show respect to the soldiers and animals that have given the ultimate sacrifice. The program starts at 1 p.m. at the Post, 1301 W. Bell Street. Lunch will be served after the program. For more information, contact the Post at 863-453-4553.

The Military Sea Services Museum, 1602 Roseland Ave. in Sebring, has 4,000 square feet of U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard history exhibits. It will be open from noon until 4 p.m. on Memorial Day. Admission is free.

Lakeview Memorial Gardens will have their 9th annual Memorial Day Ceremony and Cookout on Monday starting at 9 a.m. with featured speaker Mike Borders, Colonel, U.S. Army, retired, and president of the MOAA. Lakeview Memorial Gardens is at 854 Memorial Drive in Avon Park. For more information, call 863-385-4942 or visit lakeviewmemorialgardens.com.

COVID numbers continue to drop

The Florida Department of Health is taking Memorial Day weekend off from reporting on the state’s COVID-19 numbers, which are hitting some pandemic lows.

States reported 20,575 new cases on Friday, which is a decrease of 7,050 from the previous Friday, and brings the seven-day average down to 20,390, which is a 22% decrease from just a week ago.

There were 623 deaths reported, a decrease of 103 from last Friday. The seven-day average for deaths is now 492, which is down 14% from a week ago.

The seven-day average for testing dropped below 1 million at 992,539 and the country’s positivity rate is at a pandemic low of 2.05%.

Hospitalizations and ICU cases are both down more than 10% from a week ago.

Among states that did report on Saturday, the California Department of Public Health made an adjustment in deaths, with a reported -26, which brings the state to 61,999 deaths. The correction “reflects updates or corrections to records that may have reclassified some reported deaths as non-COVID related, and therefore resulted in a negative number.”

Michigan reported an increase of 445 new cases and 49 new deaths, including 48 “identified during a Vital Records review.” The state has now seen declines in the number of cases for seven straight weeks.

Vaccines in the U.S. have quickly fallen off, with Bloomberg reporting the seven-day average in the U.S. at 1.39 million per day, which is well off the the 2.63 million per day reported on April 29. On April 15, it was 3.39 million vaccines per day on average. At the current rate, it will take four months to vaccinate three-fourths of the U.S. population.

India continues to be hit hard, reporting 173,198 new cases and 3,601 deaths. India trails only the U.S. in cases and is behind the U.S. and Brazil in deaths.

Globally, more than 1.84 billion vaccine doses have been given, which is roughly enough shots to fully vaccinate 12% of the world’s population. The seven-day average is 31.5 million doses per day.

According to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the United States has seen 33,247,105 cases and had 594,189 deaths.

Globally, there have been 169.6 million cases and 3.52 million deaths.