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New Florence High School graduates turn their tassels and make graduation official. View more photos on Page 3 and online at www.PinalCentral.com.

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Top Florence High grads recall good times, struggles
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Although the pandemic may have muted some of the highlights of their high school years, the Class of 2021 still managed to leave with many fond memories, Florence High School’s top graduates said in speeches to their classmates at the May 27 graduation ceremony.

“The adversity our class has faced is undeniable,” Salutatorian Mackenzie Heikes said. “We have gone through quarantines, illness, missing out on dances and senior memories. And yet we made it to the other side.

“We made it through the hand sanitizer that smelled like a bad Saturday night and the toilet paper drought. We survived the Zoom (online platform) classes and virtual senior experiences. We took the adversity and challenges thrown our way in stride, and used those experiences to shape who we are as a class today. Although this wasn’t exactly how we pictured our senior year, it has definitely made it memorable.”

Valedictorian Lainey Gottfried agreed, “We have been through so many highs and lows together these past few years, which may have included finishing high school amidst a global pandemic, but I would like to say that although the story of us might be ending soon, it was enchanting to meet all of you. I do not know what the future holds for each of us, all I know since yesterday is that everything has changed.”

Gottfried urged her classmates to continue to be adaptable to change. “I can assure you that a wrench will be thrown into your plans at some point, even if just one of the small ones you find in an Ikea set. … You may even find that the path you once thought was your yellow-brick road is not the one for you, and that is perfectly fine. Oftentimes, it takes a short walk in the wrong direction to realize where you belong, even if that is the road less traveled.”

Heikes recalled some of the good times: “… concerts in science class, speakers blasting in Mr. Bharwash’s room sophomore year, dance parties at track meets, football practice in the rain, baseball tournaments, PG-13 art projects, heated debates in the band room, homecoming parades, singing sessions on the basketball bus, or finally beating ALA-Queen Creek in football. We all have something we hold onto. Florence Highs School was our home, but all of us were each other’s family — a dysfunctional family, but a family all the same.”

As the classmates go out into the unfamiliar “real world,” Gottfried urged them to work past their fears. “Please go out and meet new friends, there are so many incredible people out there. Try new things, you never know what you will enjoy until you go out and try it. Even things that may seem nonsensical at first might make you the happiest. Remember to indulge your inner child every once in a while.”

Gottfried further reminded her classmates to not be so consumed with the future that they miss out on the present: “We are not living in Super Mario; you can look to the left and right every once in a while, rather than speeding towards the finish line.” That includes the present moment, she said.

“It is easy to forget that the moments you are currently experiencing are the ones you once dreamt about as a little kid in your twin-sized bed. Take a few seconds to stop thinking about everything that is about to happen and absorb the gravity of where we are right now. After 13 years and over 150 months, you are finally graduating. In this moment now, capture it, remember it,” Gottfried said.

Heikes concluded, “Those same jitters we had four years ago walking in this school, we have them again as we walk out. Four years of giggles and mistakes and contagious laughter — sure they are behind us now, but we get to look forward towards everything that is just beginning. So I say, thank you Class of 2021 for the jitters, the laughs, the mistakes, and the friendships. We all together have had one hell of a ride. Thank you.”

Florence graduation 2021

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New ALA high school coming to Florence
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FLORENCE — The town will have a new junior high and high school next year when American Leadership Academy Anthem South opens next to the existing ALA K-6 School on Hunt Highway across from Florence Hospital.

ALA Anthem South will be built to serve 1,100 students in grades 7-12. A groundbreaking event is being planned for fall.

“We are expanding the campus, as our families have asked for a new junior high and high school choice in the area,” spokesman Melody Hudson told PinalCentral by email. “…As those students and families are ready to transition to junior and high school, and as new homes continue to sprawl in the area with ongoing growth, we are creating a new school choice to meet the area’s demand.”

The tuition-free public charter school will be the newest campus for ALA, which serves more than 12,000 students and is growing across the Valley. It will only be about 13 miles from the company’s ALA-Ironwood 7-12 school in Queen Creek. The company is also adding a new location in the West Valley, ALA West Foothills K-12, set to open this fall. A new online school, ALA Virtual 7-12, is now accepting applications.

While the new Florence school will resemble its sister high schools in the Valley, it is being planned to be one of ALA’s best, Hudson said. This includes a “state-of-the-art” grades 7-12 athletics program, with a football/soccer turf field.

“The all-new home of the Titans will also feature the only A-rated curriculum for a high school in the area, along with a full high school experience that provides a wide variety of extracurricular activities,” Hudson said. “ALA Anthem South 7-12 has completed and acquired all necessary approvals to move forward, and we are excited to welcome families to the new school in fall of 2022,” Hudson said.

For more information, visit https://www.alaschools.org/anthem-7-12.