Eleven graduates of Picher-Cardin High School have participated in the school's final graduation ceremony.
About 250 people attended the 23-minute ceremony on Friday night, which marked the end of 90 years of public education in the fading lead and zinc mining town in Ottawa County in far northeastern Oklahoma.
The town's schools are being closed because of declining enrollment figures, primarily from state and federal buyouts of homes and businesses in the Tar Creek Superfund area, which includes the towns of Picher, Cardin and Hockerville.
The area has been on the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list since 1983. It is beset with mine collapses, open shafts, acid water and mountains of lead-contaminated waste.
A powerful tornado also tore through Picher last May, resulting in the deaths of seven people and causing other residents to relocate.
Only 51 students from third through 12th grades were enrolled in Picher-Cardin schools this past school year. Before the buyouts began in 2005, the district had about 350 students.
Voters decided in April to dissolve the district, two years after a similar proposal failed.
Melissa Snow and Kayla Underhill were the co-valedictorians of Picher-Cardin's final graduating class. Both addressed their classmates during the ceremony.
"Our class is different because it's the last," Snow said. "We can never return to visit."
Superintendent Donnie Barr told the graduates that they should not "let your trials become your identity."
Craig Cruzan, a 2004 Picher graduate, called the ceremony "kind of bittersweet. It is sad because you don't want your high school to fall apart. The reunions will have to be held somewhere else.
"But I am kind of excited for the graduating seniors. They can say they were the last class of Picher Gorillas."
Former Superintendent Bob Walker said the Picher-Cardin district will be remembered for its commitment to its students and community.
"I think in my mind it brings to a close a successful school system," said Walker, who now is the vice president of student affairs at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in nearby Miami.
"The last three years have been trying to the community, students and parents. We tried to handle it as best we could. There needs to be closure so the next generation can move on."
Barr said it is thought the school opened in 1917 and had its first graduating class in 1920. He said the district's furnishings and equipment will be divided between schools in Commerce and Quapaw, which will absorb Picher's students, and that memorabilia and other surplus property will be auctioned off on June 14.
Barr said the students' records would follow them to their new schools and that the district's alumni records would be kept at the Ottawa County Clerk's Office in Miami.