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For some Caverna High School seniors graduation was bittersweet. Commencement exercises took place Monday night in the school's gym. Shown, from left, are BreeAnna Lawless, Katrina Hensley, Alaysha Barnett, Mary Russell and Mackenzie Houchens.

HORSE CAVE — Mackenzie Houchens admitted she was nervous and even feeling a little stressed-out before the start of commencement exercises.

Houchens was one of 50 Caverna High School seniors who became the graduating class of 2019 Monday night.

“I'm a little shaky, but I think it's going to go really well,” she said.

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Tammy Houchens hugs her daughter, Mackenzie, following commencement exercises. One of five, Mackenzie Houchens is the last child in her family to graduate high school. Standing behind them is Ricky Houchens, Mackenzie's father.

Houchens waited with her classmates in the school's cafeteria for the processional into the gymnasium to start.

The thing she was most nervous about she said was being in front of all those people.

Houchens tied with Mary Russell to be valedictorian.

She plans to attend Western Kentucky University in Glasgow and pursue a secondary education degree. She hopes to come back to CHS one day and teach English.

“That's the plan,” she said.

Russell was also having mixed emotions prior to graduating.

“I'm happy and sad. I'm happy that I'm going to experience this new chapter, but I'm sad that I'm leaving,” she said.

Russell plans to attend college and become a nurse. She also said she was nervous.

“I'm afraid of speaking in front of the crowd,” she said, even though she had practiced her speech about 15 times.

Russell and Houchens gave their valedictory speech together, standing side-by-side at the podium.

Graduating from high school is a huge milestone for a lot of people, but for Rebecca Groce it was a big event for both her and her mother.

Groce is the first of her mother's children to graduate. Groce is one of 10 children, and like Houchens and Russell, she too, was nervous.

“I want to make her proud,” she said, talking about her mother. She added she knows her mother is proud of her regardless. “She tells me all the time that she's proud.”

Groce plans to attend Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College and obtain an associate's degree in science. She also aspires to become a nurse.

Her family was excited that she was graduating. She anticipated they would whoop and holler for her when she walked across the stage to get her diploma, and said she really doesn't like to be the focus of a lot of attention.

Despite it all, she said, “I'm going to be excited because it's my day.”

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Asia Hatcher checks to make sure her mortarboard is on straight before commencement exercises began on Monday night while laughing at something one of her fellow classmates had just said.

On hand in the cafeteria was Stephanie Price, a senior sponsor, who has known most of the seniors since they were freshmen.

“I actually taught them math three years in a row,” she said. “I didn't get to have them this year in class, but I've gotten to see them grow and it's just been really sweet to get to see them from their freshman year.”

Saying goodbye to them, Price said was going to be “bittersweet.”

Sitting in the audience, waiting for graduation to start, was Patsy Richardson, who had no one in her family graduating Monday night, but she came to the event just the same.

“I'm just coming tonight because I know some of them who are graduating,” she said.

Richardson volunteers at Caverna Elementary School and had known many of the seniors since they were in kindergarten or first grade.

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Amarri Merriweather buttons his shirt as he dresses for graduation. 

Getting to see them graduate, she said, “is a joy.”

“I've (known) them since they were little babies,” she said.

Alaysha Burnett was named the salutatorian of the class.

She, along with Houchens and Russell, plus Katrina Hensley, BreeAnna Lawless, Zachary Reed, Christina Harper, Lyndsey Kingrey, Timothy Daniels, Nickolas Giambalvo and Corbin Wolstenholm made up the top 11 students of the class.