We talk plenty about communities here and I sometimes forget the biggest one.
Then a tragic incident takes place, as it did Tuesday night following the Lecanto High School commencement ceremonies, and it all comes back.
Prayers flooded Citrus County on Wednesday for Sheriff’s Deputy Andy Lahera who was directing traffic on C.R. 491 after graduation when a car struck him. He was reportedly in critical but stable condition at a Tampa hospital, where he was airlifted Tuesday night with multiple injuries.
(The Sheriff’s Facebook page has updates and information on how to help Deputy Lahera’s family.)
The incident shook educators, students, parents and sheriff’s deputies during graduation week when the biggest concern is usually weather-related.
And once again I’m reminded of this nation of people that exist within our midst whose responsibility — watching over our children — they take quite seriously.
I spend a lot of time writing about geographic communities such as Ozello, Sugarmill Woods, Inverness and Crystal River.
But to seek an old-fashioned community, everyone working together toward a common goal, look no further than the Citrus County School District: 15,000 students, 1,200 teachers among 2,400 employees. Plus parents, volunteers, alumni, boosters and school resource officers.
Lahera is an SRO at Lecanto Middle School; his wife teaches at Forest Ridge Elementary.
You may recall their son, Nicholas, running for school board in 2018 shortly after graduating from Lecanto High School.
That’s how the school community works. Everyone knows someone, is related to someone, had so-and-so as a teacher, remembered your little brother in fifth grade and on it goes. School is tradition, history, a ledger of social norms.
Not sure if I’ll make Citrus High’s graduation Thursday night, though I can’t remember the last time I missed one. I’m not a Citrus High parent but graduation night is the perfect time to observe all that is right in our world: Teenagers on stage, their names shouted by friends and family in the stands, clutching diplomas while walking the threshold to a new and mysterious tomorrow.
It’s difficult to let go of that experience. Ever notice the thread of every high school commencement speech? They're filled with inside jokes.
“Who can forget the debate team’s trip to Fort Lauderdale, and the bus breaking down along the turnpike at 3 in the morning! We still giggle every time Mrs. Pinkerton says, ‘And ANOTHER thing…’”
I love those stories. Graduates exchanging knowing looks, teachers feigning surprise at the retelling of shenanigans. It is just so…pure, I guess is the word I’m looking for.
Everyone who has a hand in that moment swells with pride at graduation.
A school board member told me Wednesday that the school resource officers and guardians are assigned to provide backup and support at the commencement ceremonies. Support such as directing traffic.
Citrus County SROs and guardians are specifically tasked during the school year with protecting our children. On graduation night, their solidarity stands as an example for these young men and women, who are about to start making major path decisions for the first time, of service above self.
News of critical injuries to anyone in law enforcement in our county, regardless of the circumstances, is cause for concern and support.
When the officer is a school resource deputy, that personal concern finds a much wider net. Teachers take it personally what happened to Deputy Lahera and they will pray intently for his recovery. Same with school bus drivers. And custodians. And the superintendent of schools.
That’s how it works in a strong school community like we have in Citrus County. It’s more than caring, beyond empathy.
Educators, some with a badge, share a common mission. They know there is none more important. And they’re totally on board with it.
Continued prayers for Deputy Andy Lahera — and his extended Citrus County family.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.