Ashley Walker waves to family and friends as she walks to the stage to receive her diploma during Lee County High School's 2012 commecement exercises at the LCHS football stadium Saturday morning.
LEESBURG -- One word was repeated in nearly every speech at the Lee County High School graduation 8:30 a.m. Saturday -- change.
As a class that has been together at least from the sixth grade, the class of 2012 faced changes as they moved up the grades.
"If I could choose one word for the class of 2012, it is change," said Christian Luke Roland, salutatorian. "We have been subject to so much change. We were the first to learn the new math, the first ninth-grade class on campus and we had to dine in the gym twice instead of the cafeteria."
The next change came at 9:05 a.m. when Lawrence Walters, Lee County school superintendent said, "I am now declaring you graduates of Lee County High School."
With that, nearly 350 students dressed in red graduation gowns were called by name to pick up their diplomas.
Parents, friends and other relatives nearly filled the 9,000 seats in the bleachers at the school's football field. Despite requests to hold cheers until the last student's name was called, a few groups cheered their favorite graduates.
Daryl Anderson smiled and spoke with pride about his son, Caleb, while stepmother Laura stood nearby.
"He graduated fifth in his class and is starting Georgia Tech to become a neurologist," Daryl Anderson said. "It is a great accomplishment and he has set his goals high."
Change wasn't the only popular word of the day, both parents and students called the graduation experience "bittersweet."
"I have mixed feelings. She is my only child," said Kariana Hunt's mother Oinetta. "I know you have to let them go sometime. She is going in the Air Force in September."
Ryne Strickland was one of the graduates who called the day bittersweet. He will be attending LaGrange College.
"It is the transition to the next phase of life and exciting," Strickland said. "But it is also bittersweet to leave behind people, friends, and move on to meet new ones."
Valedictorian Kayleigh Ellora Sullivan summed up the day. "We should not only be dwelling on the challenges of the past, but look ahead to the greatest challenges after graduation."