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Graduates say goodbye to high school, hello world

PLANT CITY – Catherine Ervin probably spoke for a lot of seniors after she received her diploma from Plant City High School.

“Man, it was awesome,” she said after Wednesday’s commencement at the Florida State Fairgrounds. “The tassel was worth the hassle.”

Ervin was one of about 1,600 Plant City area seniors who accepted their diplomas in ceremonies filled with praise and predictions for a bright future. Family and friends cheered as the graduates walked across the stage and into the next chapter in their lives.

Here’s a look at each of the four area schools’ graduations.

• Durant High Principal Pam Bowden said that her graduating seniors made their mark on the school and the area, including through nearly 21,000 hours of service to the community.

The best is yet to come, she said.

“You’re only beginning to pursue your dreams,” Bowden said.

Bowden said nearly three-quarters of the graduates had an unweighted grade point average of 3.0 or higher. The school took home honors at competitions ranging from the Hillsborough County Science Fair to the drama to athletics.

The graduates showed a lot of compassion, helping fellow students, teachers and others who were in need, she said.

In her valedictorian speech, Laura Del Castillo advised her fellow students to “acknowledge the many blessings that you receive,” from God and to always strive for success.

“You are the only obstacle big enough to be in your way,” Del Castillo said.

The ceremony at the state fairgrounds was marked by one distraction: A man was escorted out of the building by law enforcement officers after he ignored a ban on noise makers by sounding an air horn.

• Plant City High Principal Colleen Richardson said her school’s graduates were a special group.

They excelled academically, including a school record 172 honor graduates. They excelled at sports, winning championships at various levels in football, competitive cheering and wrestling, to name a few. This season the Raider football team beat local rivals Durant and Strawberry Crest, she added.

The school’s JROTC and its cosmetology department team took top honors in various competitions.

Richardson thanked the students for their dedication, and families for their roles.

“This success did not come without the support,” of parents and grandparents, she said.

After the ceremony, Chase Dunn, surrounded by family including parents Jeff and Stacy, 15-year-old brother Blake and 11-year-old sister Ashley, said he’s headed to Florida State University to study business finance.

“I’m proud, definitely,” he said.

• Simmons Career Center Principal Cleto “Sundy” Chazares highlighted his graduates’ accomplishments that included improved test scores, attendance and industry certifications.

“We believe that they (the graduates) have got the tools to move on,” Chazares said.

Chazares, known on campus as “Mr. C,” credited the support of faculty, parents and family members for the success of the graduating class.

The commencement address was given by former Major League Baseball player and Plant City native Kenny Kelly, who spoke to the graduates on the importance of overcoming fears and utilizing it as a motivational tool in accomplishing goals.

“Don’t be afraid of fear,” Kelly said. “Fear challenges you and it makes you stronger.”

• Strawberry Crest High Principal David Brown said he would let the graduates in on a secret: Without their leadership, the International Baccalaureate school wouldn’t be such a success.

Brown said he challenged the seniors during their freshman year to become leaders. They showed leadership and more, Brown said.

“When you leave here today, you can go anywhere you wish,” he said.

Brown listed many class accomplishments in and out of the classroom, including championships in areas from FFA to marching band to cheerleading.

And the class had a heart too, he said, working a combined total of 16,000 hours in community service.

Graduate Cody Hancock posed for photos after the service with his parents Jack and Wendy and his 14-year-old brother Cody.

Cody said he was “relieved” to graduate, while his mother beamed of her son’s academics, including membership in the National Honor Society.

“He’s worked hard for four years to get here,” she said.

Special Correspondent Kayla Lewis contributed to this article.

Twitter: @dnicholsonTBO

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