BRADENTON -- Dressed in red, white and blue, they all marched across the stage Saturday, collected their diploma and moved on to life after Manatee High School.
Senior speaker Jake Parsons, however, cautioned his classmates, while college won't be easy, it is necessary to achieve life goals.
"The sacrifices you make after high school and in our career as adults affect our lives so much more," Parsons said. "Imagine high school as training wheels to the adult world, the actual bicycle."
Joe Kinnan Field at 7,000-seat Hawkins Stadium was jam-packed as family, friends and faculty gathered to send off 500 Manatee High School graduates.
Senior speaker Rebecca Byrnes told parents, teachers and staff the one thing she knew all grads hated saying: "You were right."
Most importantly, she said, Principal Don Sauer was right during freshman orientation when he said the next four years would fly by faster than you could imagine.
"There's a saying that says high school changes who you will become and I agree with that. Four years is a long time, and it can change someone," Byrnes said.
Changes they all underwent included sense of style and social media habits.
"It started with MySpace and then Facebook, until our parents joined, and so now it's Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat," Byrnes said. "And if you don't update them daily, people will begin to question your existence."
Graduation is only the beginning, she added.
"We will soon have the freedom we have craved since grade school," Byrnes said. "And we will never have to ask permission to go to the bathroom again."
Senior speaker Victoria Thrall reminisced over the last four years, recalling their first football games and freshman crushes. Every year was lived while dreaming of the day they'd be seniors. Then came August 2014 when the countdown began to the day they would walk across the stage at graduation, she added.
"It is strange that it was four years ago that we wished graduation would come sooner," Thrall said. "Here we are, it's kind of sad that our high school experience is coming to an end."
Early in the ceremony, the Outstanding Alumni Award was presented to Oscar "Buster" Griffith from the Class of 1942.
"Seventy-three years ago tonight I graduated from this school and I thank you very much. Amen," Griffith said.
Before the graduating class was called on stage, a honorary diploma was presented to the family of Hugo Arellano, who died March 8, 2014, in a crash.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.