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story.lead_photo.caption Graduating senior Hunter Oliver addresses the California Pintos class of 2021 during Sunday's commencement ceremony. Oliver, as the commencement speaker, took time in his speech to offer his peers some pieces of advice he said he hoped would help them along their way. Photo by Austin Hornbostel / California Democrat.

Despite the challenges of the past year and beyond, 99 California High School graduates walked across the stage and received their diplomas Sunday afternoon at their commencement ceremony.

A packed gym full of family and friends was there to witness the occasion, as members of the class of 2021 were able to celebrate the culmination of their effort.

CHS principal Sean Kirksey helped the ceremony get underway after the class entered to the traditional processional of "Pomp and Circumstance." Kirksey took time to thank all the individuals who helped to make the ceremony possible and to give a special thanks to the parents in the audience.

"As their principal, I can assure you all the time and effort you have been spending to raise them up correctly and support these young people has been worth the effort," Kirksey said. "We are extremely proud of them. They are prepared, bright, resilient, creative, talented and Pinto Strong."

Music played its part throughout the ceremony; graduating seniors joined the band to play "Escape from Dead Raider's Hollow" following Kirksey's opening remarks, the senior choir later sang "My Heart Will Lead Me Home," and the audience even got to participate during a rendition of California High School's "Alma Mater."

Superintendent Dwight Sanders also played a part in the ceremony, extending his congratulations to the class of 2021.

"We are proud of each of you, and we are excited to witness and share in all of your future successes," Sanders said.

Sanders also introduced the commencement speaker, graduating senior Hunter Oliver. In his speech, Oliver offered his peers some pieces of guidance he sourced from some of the men in his life — his grandparents and the late Morris Burger included.

"I am humbled to have the opportunity to speak to you today, and I wish you the best in your future endeavors," Oliver said. " I hope the advice I shared with you today will help as you are starting your life after high school."

Before taking his seat, though, Oliver offered one last piece of advice, inspired by none other than TV personality Steve Harvey. Oliver shared a story he heard about Harvey's youth, when a teacher tried to dissuade him from following his dreams of being on television. He'd ultimately prove her wrong as we can see today, Oliver said, and that in itself offers a lesson.

"My advice to all of you is to never let someone define purpose and passion for your life," Oliver said. "Ultimately, God has a plan for each of us, and we shouldn't let anyone stand in the way of our dreams."

Kirksey later presented the class of 2021 to the Moniteau County R-1 Board of Education, and school board president Derek VanLoo accepted the class. Audience members watched on as each graduate trekked across the stage to receive their diplomas.

Senior class president Megan VanLoo had the honor of leaving her class with the ceremony's closing comments. VanLoo congratulated her peers for overcoming the multitude of challenges they've faced during their time in school — from navigating their classes and staving off "senioritis" to the aftermath of tornadoes and the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It seems surreal, and all too soon, that we are graduating today," VanLoo said. "However, here we are. We would not have made it here today without everyone who has helped us along the way. Thank you to everyone who has made this day possible; you have supported us over these years of education."

There was only one thing left to do. VanLoo invited the class of 2021 to rise and move the tassels on their caps from left to right. Not long after, those same caps were airborne.

Just like that, the ceremony came to a close with the playing of the recessional. California High School's class of 2021 had turned the page to a new chapter that's now just around the corner.

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