By Chevon T. Baccus APR
Executive Editor 

351 Seniors Complete Lake Wales High School as Class of 2019

More than 60 Percent Graduate with Honors


Last updated 5/29/2019 at 8:09am

Williamson Photography of Lake Wales

Valedictorian Lily Thrift celebrates graduation and thanks friends, family and teachers

Proud parents, grandparents, neighbors and friends came out with balloons, flowers, smiles and a few tears Friday, May 24 to celebrate the graduation of 351 Lake Wales High School seniors. Legion Field was standing-room-only for the annual celebration, marking the passage of the Class of 2019 into the "real world."

Much of the ceremony was traditional. The JROTC color guard marched in and presented the flag for the pledge of allegiance. The band and orchestra played the processional "Pomp and Circumstance." The Highlander Scottish unit performed the traditional dance to bagpipes playing "Tunes of Glory." The crowd sang the alma mater. A special addition to the program included four graduates – Aaliyah DesRoches, Melkayla Irvis, Abigail Johnson and Annalea Roberts – who filled the air with beautiful voices and the powerful message to "Rise Up." National Honor Society Secretary Danielle Nicole Silva opened with words of inspiration. The celebration was closed with fireworks and many hugs

Valedictorian Lily Thrift, daughter of Leanne and Sean Thrift, called her high school experience "wild" and "a crazy and confusing time. . . But regardless of the craziness I was blessed to be surrounded by amazing people the entire time."

She praised "the amazing teachers who put me here," her supportive family and her classmates, whom she predicted would take their places in science labs, medical practices, universities, Wall Street and the White House: "The class of 2019 is so close and has so much spirit."

Lily will be attending the University of Central Florida on a full academic scholarship. She was introduced by her teacher Jenny Medlock, a UCF alum.

Salutatorian Helen Lei, daughter of Elaine and David Lei, reflected on her public education that started in 2006 at Polk Avenue Elementary. She was introduced by her kindergarten teacher, Anuj Saran, now LWHS assistant principal of operations and International Baccalaureate.

"In this life we need to believe we are the ones who can change our future – give ourselves the credit that we deserve by being this person we see in the mirror every day," Helen said.

She expressed confidence that each one of her classmates would be successful and she challenged them to "hold onto your voice and run your road."

On hand to celebrate, along with Helen's parents, 14-year-old brother Kevin and 10-year-old sister Diana, was Helen's sister Michelle, who was LWHS valedictorian two years ago. Helen, who thanked her parents and gave her sister credit for setting the bar high and motivating her to excel at school, will be following Michelle to Wesleyan University.

More than 60 percent of the class graduated with honors, and Principal Donna Dunson said while the official figures aren't out yet, she feels certain the Class of 2019 graduation rate again this year will exceed 90 percent. It was 64.5 percent when the Lake Wales Charter School system took over 11 years ago. The LWHS Class of 2018 graduation rate of 92 percent was the third highest in the county and number one among Title 1 schools, those with at least 40 percent of their students qualifying for free or reduced price lunches based upon low family income. The poverty rate for LWHS is 71 percent, making the graduation rate and percentage graduating with honors even more extraordinary.

Dunson expressed her pride in the graduates and their bright futures, but reminded them life "goes by so quickly like a feather in a fire" and "you need to savor every moment." She told them she recently joined her classmates for their 50th high school reunion, where they enjoyed dancing to Motown, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones: "We loved seeing after all these years where life had taken each other." Dunson closed her remarks by reading off inspirational quotes posted throughout the school – one final motivational reminder.

Tayna De Oliveira Moreira, class president for the last four years, spoke of moving from Brazil at a young age and having to leave everything behind. She said the class took to heart and lived out the school's motto: "You are your brother's keeper."

Williamson Photography of Lake Wales

Family of class Salutatorian Helen Lei celebrates - sister Michelle was 2017 valedictorian

"Each of you has your own story, a story that motivates you to push yourself and succeed emotionally, physically and mentally," noting he always tries to keep in mind the people who have supported her. "My parents pushed me to make the best of every opportunity I was given. My teachers allowed me to delve into my curiosity. My coaches showed me the importance of perseverance while my peers and boyfriend showed me the value of friendship. Individuals that have been a part of my journey have now turned into my family and that's what I love about this community."

She expressed pride in her classmates and everything they've accomplished and closed her remarks by saying: "This chapter may be ending as we continue to pursue our individual dreams but I'm so excited to see what God has in store for our next chapter and I wish you all the best."

NOTE: A full gallery of graduation photos by Williamson Photography of Lake Wales can be found at


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