BRADENTON -- Jackie Riordan, association administrator at the Manatee County YMCA, called it "the greatest graduation ever period."
She was boldly referring Monday to the 2014 Manatee Y Technological High School graduation held outside in the courtyard of the South Florida Museum.
This graduation had unforgettable and priceless moments.
The 10 graduates were clearly close to each other. They showed their affection and care by cheering each other every time their names were mentioned.
All graduates came into the school labeled "at-risk." They left no longer carrying such a label, Principal Cameron Lazer said.
Surrounded by a crowd of about 125 family and friends who gave them love through cheers and shouts, the proud graduates heard from bright and articulate senior class repre
sentative Ray Benbow, gritty and determined Valedictorian James Odaffer , dramatic and statuesque classmate Arismenia Lee, the quiet yet intelligent trio of Duchesse Nicolas, Osha Shaw and Israel Ortiz and the indefatigable quartet of Joseph Charles, Fabien Howard, Andrew Brion Mays and Reginald Wilson,
Lazar, principal for five months at the 2-year-old school, which contracts with the School District of Manatee, then grew emotional talking about Benbow.
Many had given up on Benbow, Lazar said, but not a school known to those who attend and teach there as "MYT." The school mission is to put an academic charge into students who, for example, are of age to be a junior in high school but have the credits of a freshman due to truancy, problems with the law, inability to deal with school structure or other factors.
"Ben came to us from a long history of academic deficiency and discipline problems," Lazer said. "He was even convicted of some criminal activities. But, in a few minutes, he will deliver the senior speech as our class representative."
The "greatest graduation ever period" needed a sharp senior class speech and got it from Benbow.
Benbow told the crowd he was nervous, but when he began to speak, words rolled off his tongue with the adroitness of a lawyer. The audience cheered this young man who, it was apparent, loves words and is blossoming now given a chance.
"Darkness can't drive out darkness. Only light can drive out darkness," Benbow told the crowd. "Hate can't drive out hate. Only love can drive out hate."
Then he looked at his fellow graduates.
"This diploma that we will receive tonight is our learner's permit for driving the rest of our lives," he said. "And I want you to know that, after tonight, you can look in the mirror and who you see is someone special."
The Honorable Durand Adams, retired circuit court judge of Manatee County, gave the grads wisdom he has distilled during 67 years. He cautioned them to guard their lives and think before they act, to make their living doing what they love and do the right thing even if they have to go it alone. He advised them there is no speedway to riches, slow and steady saving wins the race and don't buy things they can't afford.
"Don't forget to call home," Adams told them. "Remember, those who love you love hearing your voice. It makes them happy."
He saved his greatest advice to the end when he said: "There is a power in the one. You may be the one for someone else."