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AAPI Heritage: Belton families celebrate graduates with cultural traditions

Recent grads Charles Ilaoa and Taylor Hiile Quereto Medeiros received leis and smiles from loved ones after Belton High School's graduation ceremony, Thursday.

BELTON, Texas — Thousands of students have walked the graduation stage to receive diplomas and degrees in Central Texas this May, making themselves and their families proud. 

From cheers, to hugs and just being there, families celebrate their loved ones in special ways at the Belton High School graduation at the Bell County Expo Center on Thursday. 

That's especially true for people in the Samoan community. Malaetele Ilaoa joined her family members to witness her youngest brother's big day. 

Ilaoa said, "We're so incredibly proud of him. He's our baby brother, but our gentle giant."  

Well, the gentle giant Charles Ilaoa said he's relieved to be done with his high school journey. He'll be joining the Marines and leaving for boot camp in July.

"Time to look for the future and that makes me super happy, " the Ilaoa graduate said. 

While the future is bright, the present called for the celebration of achievement. Once Ilaoa walked out from the ceremony, he was greeted by his family with a handmade crown and several leis covered in candy, money and flowers. 

"It's Samoan culture. It's very smiled upon that after graduation you receive money gifts, candy gifts, just to show respect to the person that comes and goes," he said. 

Ilaoa believes it's a nice way to show someone your family love. 

"That's all it is. It's just love," he said. 

And another family flew all the way from Hawaii to Texas to support their graduate, Taylor Hiile Quereto Medeiros. They greeted her with leis, a haku and a giant T-shaped collage of pictures. 

"It's kind of awesome because not a lot of people understand each lei and the meaning of the haku," she said. "It's a part of my culture and I'm really proud to wear it."  

Hiile Quereto Medeiros described seeing her extended family as surreal since they traveled more than 15 hours to watch her receive her high school diploma and honor her. 

"I'm so glad to be representing my culture," she said. "Just excited to be able to start the next chapter of my next life." 

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