EAST MANATEE -- The sanctity of a church setting did not dampen the excitement of the graduating senior class of Bradenton Christian School on Friday.
Held in the Bayside Community Church East Campus sanctuary with two large white crosses flanking the stage, the 39 graduates and their family and friends loudly applauded and cheered during the 90-minute ceremony when a speaker would relate an amusing story or one of the seniors demonstrated his exuberance.
But the fact that Bradenton Christian, at 3304 43rd Street, Bradenton, provides a religious education was not lost on the class of 2012.
Senior Class President Josh Clark told of several funny experiences he and his classmates shared, but ended his address with a quote from the Bible and exhorting the graduates to make a difference.
English teachers Shirley Hudson and Leah Kfiewer, both loved and admired by their students, emphasized the same theme in their co-delivered commencement address: The Class of 2012 is "not just another graduating class.
"You are on the brink of great potential," they said as they choked back tears.
When the ceremony started and the graduates marched down the aisl -- girls in white gowns and boys in dark blue -- they were greeted by the Bradenton Christian kindergartners, the Class of 2024, who sang an uplifting hymn.
Before the diploma and a Bible were awarded, the audience of about 500 were treated to a slideshow of the graduates as babies and young toddlers along with their senior photograph.
Kelley Ann Thompson was the class valedictorian with a 4.49 grade point average.
Heidi Newby, who received the Faculty Outstanding Student Award and was class salutatorian with a 4.45 grade point average, said after the ceremony she was surprised to have been picked for the honor.
"I'm blessed," said Newby, who will be in the University of South Florida's Honors College studying social science education, "for the teachers to see in me Christ's example."
Clark, who is headed to the Ivy League Dartmouth College on a football scholarship to study pre-law, also said he was blessed.
"I'll be working out all summer," said the offensive linesman. "I want to make an impact."