One hundred years ago, one graduate, the first graduate, earned her diploma from Holcomb High School.

This year, the centennial year for the school and its graduating class, things had changed. Fifty-one students sat in orange and white robes in the school’s gym. And when Principal Jason Johnson took the stage near the beginning of the ceremony, he gestured to the hundreds of proud family members and friends seated in stands along the perimeter.

“... anyone who graduated from Holcomb High School, would you please stand? Because you are a part of 100 years of excellence,” Johnson said.

At least a third of the spectators stood.

Holcomb High School celebrated the graduation of the class of 2019 on Saturday afternoon, but they also took a moment to honor the history of the school and district that had carried the students forward for most of their lives thus far.

Two students walked attendees through the history of Holcomb and its high school from the beginning. The town, originally called Sherlock, was a flagstation for the Santa Fe railroad and meant to be the main city in Finney County, they said. In 1909, it became Holcomb.

Wiley Elementary was built in 1914 under the motto “study or flunk.” Students showed pictures of the town’s small schoolhouse circa 1919, a small, pioneer-style building that looked like it was stolen from the pages of “Little House on the Prairie.” Another picture of a larger Holcomb school flashed on screen, this time from 1920 and looking more like a grand church.

Florence Evelyn Carter would become Holcomb High’s first graduate in 1919.

Then, since and now, however, the school colors have always been orange and black, and its students have always been Longhorns.

Students stood as Johnson called the names of high academic achievers, top athletes, standout citizens and the most inspirational. The Outstanding Teacher of the Year award took a nod to the school’s history in its way, honoring the faculty’s longest-serving member, Stan Kennedy, who has taught at the district for 38 years. Even some in the audience stood to clap as his name was read.

As students spoke, the look back was more recent, salutatorian Bailey Pauley reflecting on her and her classmates’ elementary teacher’s dog, growing quiet together as children when an electronic stoplight blinked red in the cafeteria and getting detention in eighth grade for helping a student escape out a window. She thanked Coach Michelle Baier, who would later call students to the stage to receive their diplomas, for believing in her when she could not believe in herself.

Valedictorian Maci Klotz looked forward, asking students to consider what truly defined success, when the markers they had relied on thus far, report cards and scoreboards, fell away.

“High school does not define who you are or what you are capable of accomplishing. It merely determines the college you attend, the workforce you go into and the scholarships you receive. You are the author of your future, therefore begin composing your story,” Klotz said.

Moments before Superintendent Scott Myers would officially pronounce the 51 students graduates and each would walk across the stage before them, hugging teachers and snapping selfies with school board members, the lights went out as everyone in the gym watched the class’ slideshow.

Slides showed seniors interspersed with collages of the seniors together, now and then. Cheers and applause broke out from different corners of the darkness as everyone in the room took a moment to remember who they were and where they came from.

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.