BAYSHORE GARDENS -- For the Class of 2014, IMG Academy took graduation to new heights. Literally.
Melanie Cabassol, student events and activities manager, skydived onto the IMG Academy stadium from 10,000 feet to roars of applause to begin the ceremony. Cabassol addressed the crowd and wished the students congratulations on their hard work so far.
Students also welcomed families and guests to the celebration in 38 different languages -- representative of the counties the 168 graduates hail from. The international welcome has become a tradition at the culturally diverse school, said Richard Odell, IMG Academy headmaster. The private
sports academy serves students from prekindergarten to post-graduate studies.
For the Class of 2014, Friday marked a new beginning and a dramatic change for students, Odell said.
"Someone has typically always had your back up until this point," Odell told graduates. Now, the graduates would have to trust themselves even more, as they would be free of the high school community and family.
Student speakers on Friday urged their classmates to look fondly back on the special opportunity they had while studying at IMG Academy. For valedictorian Jacqueline Bendrick, from Seattle, attending IMG was the catalyst to fulfilling her dream of playing Division I golf. Bendrick will attend Furman University in South Carolina with a spot on the team.
"Very few high schools in the country are like IMG," she said. "It allowed me to achieve my dream."
But for some, achieving their dreams didn't come without adversity, which is what Nicolas Katz, the class salutatorian, focused on in his speech. Katz's father died when Katz was 6, and Katz's brother was diagnosed with cancer. Katz also shared some adversities his classmates had experienced and how the family community at IMG helped students overcome their struggles.
"I, like my classmates, do not want these events to define who I am," Katz said.
During his speech, Katz reminded students to save the moment and the memory of graduation.
Katz, a lacrosse player from New Jersey, plans to attend a school for a post-graduate program next year, although he has not decided where he will go.
In continuing with tradition, the graduation ceremony also honored former staff member George Garnett with a moment of silence and the awarding of the George Garnett Spirit Award to graduating senior Jacqueline Simeone.
Garnett, a technology instructor, was shot and killed in a dispute in 2012.
"I know George Garnett is smiling on us today with great pride," she said, before reminding students to always follow their hearts.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.