Parents and faculty sometimes feel a sense of loss when students graduate from high school.
Excitement and new degrees launch students into the unknown, said Bill Jones, principal of Manatee School for the Arts, as he spoke to nearly 200 graduates and 3,000 visitors at the Bradenton Area Convention Center on Monday evening.
"We won't always remember your names and faces, especially when you come back to visit and you've grown and changed," Jones said. "But there are moments, conversations, classwork, shows and performances that someone here — maybe everyone here — will remember about you."
He said dozens of students exceeded the minimum requirements, earning scholarships or graduating with honors. Zoe Zimmermann is one of those students.
During her speech, Zimmermann said she is the first student to go directly from the high school to an Ivy League institution. She plans to graduate from Brown University in 2022.
Zimmermann acknowledged that she and her peers would likely face hardships after graduation.
"I hope, though, that whatever path our lives take us on, we find a passion — something that will propel us through our darkest hour, something to turn to when we feel like we have nothing left, because passion is what humanity craves," she said.
Most of the other five student speakers said they found a home at the school. Evelyn Salvador said it served as a refuge from the bullying she faced before enrolling at MSA.
Freshman students naturally formed cliques, she said. Those groups disbanded as students grew older, shifting their focus to rigorous testing or jobs outside of school.
Then, Salvador said, students unified as soon-to-be graduates. She urged her peers to imagine the future, and to cherish the memories and life lessons from high school.
"I'd like to take a moment to celebrate those dances our hearts danced. When you first made the team you auditioned for. Those dances our hearts danced when you finally got your nose pierced. When you won something in an art competition. When you got your first job. When you got asked to prom by your crush, and when we received our caps and gowns."
In her own speech, Megan Pigsley walked listeners through her experience at the school. She said students started by navigating the campus, making new friends and battling the trials of their teenage years.
"Puberty was going around like the neighborhood ice cream truck, passing out new smells and pimples that we had no idea how to handle," Pigsley said. "The teachers probably wanted to hand out deodorant like it was homework."
Though it seemed high school would last an eternity, she said, it felt more like a blur in her senior year. She lost old relationships, found new friends and completed more assignments than anyone could remember.
"My peers taught me everything that a textbook never could," Pigsley said. "You all showed me how to love endlessly, fear nothing and live like there's no tomorrow."