When Lauren Bennett crosses the stage and grasps her Westerville Central High School diploma this weekend, she'll become part of a family tradition that spans four generations.
Lauren's father graduated from Westerville schools, as did two of her grandparents, her two siblings, her aunts, uncles and cousins.
Moreover, Saturday also is 80 years to the day since her great-grandmother Frieda Bennett graduated from Westerville High School.
Frieda Bennett will turn 98 years old May 30, and she said while there is no formal reunion celebration, she will get together with the two other known remaining graduates of her class.
Frieda Bennett remembered her time in Westerville schools fondly and acknowledged how much the city has changed in the last 80 years.
Frieda Bennett attended elementary school in a one-room school house on Moss Road and graduated as one of the first classes from the "new" Westerville High School housed in what is now Hanby Elementary School, 56 S. State St.
"I loved going to school, and I made good grades and I always felt smart," Frieda Bennett said. "I had funny red hair and freckles, but I always felt smart."
Frieda Bennett said she's appreciated watching generations of her family graduate from Westerville schools and stay in the city to raise their own children.
"I fully appreciate it," she said. "I have so much to be thankful for."
The younger Bennetts have a sense of humor about being part of a legacy that goes back more than 80 years, if you count Frieda Bennett's siblings who graduated from Westerville schools ahead of her.
"It just, coincidentally, seems to run in the family," said Emily Bennett, Lauren's sister, who graduated from Westerville North in 2011.
Lauren said growing up with a large family that was deeply rooted in Westerville was a great experience.
"I thought it was cool with all the family around because they got to come to all of my school events; all the holiday parties and birthday parties have a lot of family members that come," Lauren said.
"I could share all the fun things going on at school or going on in my life instead of writing to them or calling them on the phone."
A town full of family also create some complications, Lauren said.
"You can't get away with anything," Lauren joked. "Everyone knows your parents, and they always find out."
Lauren's father Ed Bennett, who graduated in 1984, said he had a similar experience growing up.
"When I was growing up, Westerville was a much smaller town, and I couldn't go anywhere without people knowing who I was," Ed Bennett said. "It was nice, at times, because you always felt like you knew somebody. But you were under scrutiny, too."
The Bennetts said it's the strong family ties and connections to the community that keep them in Westerville.
"Everybody's here, and that's what keeps us grounded here," said Lauren's mother Tammy Bennett, one of four members of the large extended family who did not graduate from Westerville schools.
Lauren said she hopes to one day return to Westerville.
She will attend Bowling Green State University in the fall to study education, following in the footsteps of her grandparents, Kay Stout Bennett, a graduate of the class of 1961 and Ben Bennett, a graduate of the class of 1962. Both were teachers.
Lauren's brother, Jeffrey, a 2009 graduate of Westerville Central, also just completed an education degree.
"I want to return because my whole family is here. I enjoyed growing up with my family around me," Lauren said. "I would like to come back and teach so I can give back to the community."