LAKEWOOD RANCH — Out-of-Door Academy English teacher Noel Dougherty put a tissue on the podium when it was her turn to speak during the school’s 2009 commencement Saturday afternoon at the Petrik Thunderdome on the Upper School campus in Lakewood Ranch.
It didn’t take long before she was grabbing for it.
“You are like family to me,” she told the graduates as she fought back the tears. “You have made an indelible mark on my soul.”
It was the 10th commencement ceremony for the school, and Dougherty told the audience how each graduating senior had taught her a lesson in the last four years since she came to Out-of-Door Academy as a teacher.
Then she started to cry.
“We have tenderness for what you are, and respect for what you’ve become,” said Dougherty. “We are filled with curiosity and excitement of what you will become. You are our hope for the future.”
Tears of joy turned to smiles as graduating senior Cody Feder related to the audience about how one journey as a 4-year-old to Walt Disney World with her mother influenced her entire life.
Disney makes everyone believe their dreams can come true, said Feder.
“At that moment, I decided I would,” said the young woman described by friends as “tenacious” and “determined.”
From that day on, Disney became the theme of her life, recalled Feder. When times get tough, people often overlook the magical aspect of life, she said.
“If we utilized this attitude we possessed as kids, we’d be far better off,” said Feder.
Times have been tough recently for Feder as she told the audience her mother passed away in March. She thought she could not go on after that, but then remembered being at Disney World with her mom. Her mother would have encouraged her to continue pursuing her dreams.
Feder encouraged her fellow classmates to do the same.
“If you want something, go get it,” she said. “Don’t settle for anything less than the impossible.”
Feder thanked the teachers, staff, parents, and classmates for making her journey through Out of Door Academy a memorable one. She said it had a “profound effect on her life.”
“The kindness at Out of Door will stay with me for the rest of my life,” said Feder. “I just can’t say enough. Together you have made my dreams come true.”
Feder received a standing ovation from the crowd.
It wasn’t a trip that inspired senior Thomas “Trey” Malone III, but rather Lego blocks, he told the audience. He admitted he used to play with Legos a lot, and when searching for a subject for his senior speech, he re-discovered a large bag of the colored plastic blocks.
Malone related several humorous stories about how Out-of-Door teachers, staff, parents and his stepfather provided the Legos to help him build a strong foundation for the rest of his life.
“It’s the effects of all those before me that has built up to what is today,” he said. “As I go on, I will always remember these Legos I have built upon and I will never forget you.”