MANATEE -- Even though the Saint Stephen's Episcopal School graduating class of 2014 had only 69 seniors, the diversity of the students was reflected in the ceremony and speeches Friday.
After receiving their diplomas, each of the graduates walked to the center stage of the Neel Performing Arts Center at State College of Florida to perform the traditional moving of the tassel from one side of the mortarboard cap to the other.
Most simply stood and smiled while the audience applauded, but several took bows or waved, or as one student did, held a sign saying "For Mom."
Student Chaplain Jorge Zavala opened the commencement ceremonies with an in
vocation thanking God for the time he and his fellow classmates had together.
And Student Council President Tiagpaul Bhamber asked the graduates to "cherish every moment" of the evening.
Most of the speeches also touched on the diversity of the graduating class.
Head of School Janet Pullen talked of the variety of achievements of her charges in the past four years, such as how 62 percent of them earned college scholarships based on merit totaling more than $3.2 million.
Pullen also told the proud parents, family and friends of the different colleges the class of 2014 will be attending, from locally at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee to two across the Atlantic Ocean, one in Paris and the other in Barcelona.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Christie Eastman, a 2004 graduate of Saint Stephen's, charged the graduates to "listen up," and to take away two principles: "Don't give up, and remember those who taught you life's lessons."
Eastman reflected on events in her life when things were not going as planned, but after encouragement from others she pushed on to achieve her goals.
"Some things don't work out as planned," she said, but that is all part of the "roller coaster of life."
Eastman told the graduates that this is an exciting point in their lives, and they should remember each other no matter how far apart they are.
She left them with several gems of wisdom:
"If you work hard, things will work out; be modest, but be proud of your achievements; and enjoy the journey."
Graduated senior Austin Siegel was ready for that journey.
Siegel will be going to Northwestern University to study journalism.
"I joined the staff of the school newspaper as a freshman," he said. "I found journalism engaging and interesting."
As someone who has a lot of interests, Siegel said journalism will allow him to explore different subjects.
For Rohan Jain, his is a long journey to European University in Barcelona because he plans to be a professional tennis player and the school has a great tennis program.
Attending college seems to be the one thing all members of this class have in common.