PALMETTO -- After years of hard work, nothing was going to stop Britt Tonnesen from collecting her high school diploma.
Not even getting into a car accident on the way to the ceremony.
Tonnesen, 18, was involved in a three-car accident on the DeSoto Bridge on Friday on her way to the Lakewood Ranch High School graduation ceremony. Tonnesen, who was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her boyfriend, Garrett Melton, was diagnosed with a concussion on the scene after hitting her head when Melton's car was rear ended, Melton stayed on the scene of the accident, while Tonnesen's mother picked Tonnesen up and drove her the rest of the way to the Bradenton Area Convention Center.
"I've worked so hard for this, I'm not letting anything happen," Ton
nesen said while seated in a chair waiting for the graduation ceremony to begin. Tonnesen wasn't allowed to walk around backstage before the ceremony.
Tonnesen joined more than 400 others in celebration Friday. Principal Linda Nesselhauf lauded the accomplishments on the Class of 2014, celebrating students' academic, community service and athletics achievements, among others. The Class of 2014 played a very important role for Lakewood Ranch High School, Nesselhauf said.
"It is with much pride we present the Lakewood Ranch Class of 2014," Nesselhauf said.
Seniors put together a special video presentation celebrating the Class of 2014 to begin the ceremony. The video, filled with photos, short video clips and student interviews, featured the class song "Home" by Philip Phillips and the graduation classic "Don't You (Forget About Me)" by Simple Minds.
For class president Kelly Miller, it was hard to believe graduation was really happening. Miller reflected on freshman year, and how scary the seniors were at the time.
"In the blink of any eye, we became those scary seniors," she said. "You don't know whether to be sad or excited."
Faculty members Terry Thompson and Michelle Todoroff also weren't sure whether to be sad or excited. Thompson, an art teacher, and Todoroff, a career and college adviser, both had sons graduating Friday. Having their own children participate in graduation made the ceremony very different.
"It's a whole new perspective as a parent," said Todoroff, whose 17-year-old son, Lane, graduated Friday.
"He's my baby," Thompson said of her 17-year-old son, Devon. "It'll be very poignant to have an empty nest next year."
Both Lane and Devon predicted tears from their mothers on the stage Friday night.
Marina Masterson and Ashlyn Falahee, the other student speakers Friday, thanked the teachers, staff, parents and their fellow students for helping to make the last four years a great success. Masterson also reminded students the importance of the high school diploma they were receiving Friday.
"Education is something that no one can take away from you."
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.