One by one the largest graduating class in the 5-year history of West Gadsden High School walked across the stage to receive their diplomas. Family members and friends shouted as each of the 63 students shook hands with school board members and received the diplomas from Sylvia Jackson, principal.
The celebrations were low key with one student doing a split and another imitating the high stepping of the Florida A & M University Marching 100. But most looked for parents and friends just before they stepped up on the platform. Degrees in hand, they waved them to in the direction of the people they had tried to locate earlier.
Michael Kelly, class valedictorian, challenged students to use the resources available to them to become successful in whatever career or work path they choose.
"Believe in what you're doing. To attain true success, never settle for less than your personal maximum best," Kelly said. He asked his parents to stand and thanked them for encouraging him to continue trying when he wanted to give up.
Marcus Gurley Jr., class salutatorian, also challenged his classmates to make the most of their lives now that they are facing an adult world.
Sharon Jefferson, Tallahassee Community College vice president of student affairs, presented Kelly and Javario Bates their associate of arts degrees. The students completed the dual enrollment this spring. Jefferson urged parents and students to find out out the program that affords high school students the opportunity to attend community college without cost.
Local attorney Marva Davis delivered the keynote address that drew several rounds of applause and a standing ovation.
"Will tonight be the beginning or the end? It's up to you. History is in the making and it all depends on how you write your story," she said.
Even the downpour couldn't put a damper on the high spirits. Gabriela Calderon was surrounded by her cousins after the ceremony. They'd come to be with her as she received the diploma she has worked so hard to earn.
"I'm going to the University of West Florida in Pensacola. I have a full scholarship with everything paid for. I'm going to be a nurse," she said.
Nearby, older family members who spoke little or no English smiled and clasped their hands with a mixture of pride and tears in their eyes that seemed ready to spill over.