PALMETTO -- Alex Aragon is the first in her family to graduate high school, and she almost didn't make it.
At the beginning of senior year, Aragon was contemplating dropping out of Manatee School for The Arts, and joining the workforce to help her single mother support herself and two younger brothers.
The teachers, staff and students at MSA helped Aragon through the year to her high school graduation.
"If it wasn't for the MSA teachers, I wouldn't be graduating," Aragon said as she struggled through tears telling her story to the MSA graduation ceremony crowd at the Bradenton Area Civic Center.
When Aragon's words faltered, her supporters were there to lift her up.
"You can do it," several audience members shouted as Aragon struggled
to thank teachers individually.
Aragon said she will continue her education hoping to one day earn a degree in physical therapy or sports medicine.
Aragon was one of four students who spoke of dreaming big during the public charter school ceremony. The school, which started 16 years ago as a bowling alley, Principal Bill Jones reminded the crowd -- serves students in grades six through 12 with a focus on arts education.
Student speaker Heather Mazer reminded students to be their own biggest supporter and biggest critic during her speech.
"The key to success is you," she said.
Speakers Amber Showers and Brandon Guzman-Ortiz remembered the time spent in school and encouraged students to live up to their own expectations as they continued on in life.
And faculty members had a special reminder for students as well.
Eight faculty members, along with student members of the chamber choir, sang "You'll Never Walk Alone," from the musical "Carousel," reminding students of the family that remains for them at Manatee School for The Arts. A number of other musical selections accompanied the ceremony.
The beginning of the ceremony featured a special touch with student baby pictures displayed on a slideshow along with student senior pictures for contrast. The pictures were met with many "ooohs" and "awwws" from the crowd. The ceremony also featured a slideshow of 131 graduate names, with the theme song from the Harry Potter movies playing in the background. The song was selected specifically by the students.
At the beginning of the ceremony, teacher Steven Marshall called out specific accomplishments students had made at MSA, including scholarships and distinctions. These achievements, Marshall said, shouldn't end with high school.
"Keep up the great work and continue to build on these successes as you begin your future," Marshall said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.