Harker Heights graduates sit together as they watch fellow graduates receive their diplomas on stage during the school’s commencement ceremony Saturday at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton.

By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON — Boasting 578 graduates — the largest in their school’s 10-year history — the Harker Heights High School Class of 2011 celebrated its spring commencement exercise Saturday at the Bell County Expo Center.

In the waning minutes before filing out into the arena in front of friends and family, the students gathered in a large backroom, talking among themselves about the previous four years and what the future holds.

Near the front of the line was salutatorian Cody Ruhl, who was busy going over a last-minute recitation of his speech.

“I’m pretty nervous right now honestly,” Ruhl said. “But it also feels pretty good. I’m feeling real good.”

Ruhl’s classmate, 17-year-old Cesar Calderon, seemed a bit awestruck that his high school days were actually at an end.

“It took four years to finally get this far, but everything flies by; it’s crazy,” Calderon said. “I’m a little nervous thinking about all my family out there, but I’m excited to finally be here.”

Further down the line of waiting students, Lorissa Carns also spoke of how the time has flown by.

“It went by quick, and I am going to miss it,” said Carns, who plans to attend Central Texas College for two years, then go on to a four-year school. “I’ve had an amazing time.”

After making their way into the arena and taking their seats, the seniors watched as Maj. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division and Regional Command East, Afghanistan, gave a recorded address, telling students “you have our heartfelt admiration and respect as you take this important step.”

Once Ruhl gave his remarks and congratulated his classmates for their accomplishment, valedictorian Maryam Khan had her turn in front of the microphone.

“I challenge you to go out into the world and make sure your voices are heard,” Khan said. Later Khan told her classmates to respect each other’s differences.

“Our individuality will shape history,” she said.

HHHS Principal Ralph Bray told the crowd that close to

$2 million in scholarships were awarded to the Class of 2011.

“You’ve done extremely well,” Bray said, turning his attention to the students. “I’m very proud and willing to sit back and see what you do with your knowledge in our society.”

Just before the students began making the walk across the floor to receive their diplomas, Killeen Independent School District Superintendent Robert Muller told them graduation marks both an end and a new beginning.

“I encourage you to step into your future with great anticipation and hope,” Muller said.