PALMETTO -- While it was four years ago, the graduating students at Braden River High School remember that wet first day at school like it was just yesterday.
And while they quickly learned how the Braden River was indeed a river, students had nothing but fond memories to share during Saturday afternoon's commencement ceremony at the Bradenton Area Convention Center -- one that brought them right back to their beginnings with torrential downpours.
"We are Pirates. Pirates are not fearful, pirates are brave," commencement speaker Rachel Arcuri said. "Be brave enough to pursue your dream no matter how long they take."
She spoke of fear, as Arcuri told her fellow classmates about walking off the plank into their new lives.
"Although you may be fearful," Arcuri said, "you can walk with confidence and be sure that you are fully prepared to handle whatever is to come. And never forget: Once a Pirate, always a Pirate."
Among the graduates was top-five "American Idol" finalist Sam Woolf, who made it back home from Hollywood in time to walk to the stage with his friends and fellow classmates who cheered him on for weeks. The school and fellow classmates were supportive as they watched him on television, holding watch parties at the school and deeming themselves the "Woolfpack."
While his newly acquired fame did not go without mention by most speakers at the ceremony, Woolf was a teenager of few words, just happy to have been able to make graduation despite a busy schedule as he prepares to go on tour with the "American Idol" Top 10.
Principal Jennifer Gilray had some words of encouragement for the graduates before they left her ship.
"I challenge you to continue the legacy you have begun here at Braden River High," Gilray said. "You will succeed."
As they waited for their commencement to begin, all the graduates were bubbling with excitement and anticipation.
Marcella Richardson was just relieved that the day had finally arrived after finishing strong, she said.
"I'm excited for my future to start," Richardson said.
As she waited with fellow classmates and friends to cross the stage, she looked ahead at her plans, which include pursuing a Bachelor's degree at the University of Central Florida to pursue a career in nursing and eventually becoming a physician's assistant.
As for what she will miss most, she said it will be the student government association, in which she served as public relations officer.
"We were really close, like family," Richardson said. "Our job was to raise school spirit."
For Brandon Gundrum, Saturday felt just like any other day, but he knew it was special, he said.
The graduate is looking forward to attending Finger Lakes Community College in New York and being reunited with family and friends he has there, but he will miss the friends he made at Braden River.
"They really helped to make me the person that I am," Gundrum said. "I have changed so much since I was a freshman until now -- it just flew by."
Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.