A tight-knit group of 63 seniors graduated from Bradenton Christian School Friday night at Bayside Community. Along the way, they formed memories that will last them a lifetime.
Seventeen of the graduates attended the school since kindergarten, but all of them have grown close while supporting one another and following in God’s footsteps, said Jonathan Kliewer, a Bible study teacher who gave the commencement address.
"You've become men and women of God," said Kliewer, addressing the graduates. "I've seen you serve. I've seen you lead. I've seen you study. I've seen you grow and it's been an honor, and we are so extremely proud of you."
Kliewer shared multiple anecdotes about how he, too, has grown close with the students ever since he began teaching them when they were in eighth grade. He gave them advice for what comes next in their lives and assured them that they're ready for it.
Bradenton Christian Superintendent Dan Vande Pol also took time to look back at the year's highlights, including athletic success, a broken art room window thanks to a booming home run and even a spectacular letdown at prom when a student's plea to a pop star went unnoticed.
"You celebrated prom and had a great time, despite Taylor Swift not showing up," Vande Pol joked. "You've left a very positive impression on Bradenton Christian School and I thank you from my heart for that."
Joshua Ingram gave a speech as the Class of 2018's student speaker and decided to discuss honesty with his classmates and their friends and family.
"I wanted to leave each and every person here with some sort of message. So you know what popped into my mind?" Ingram asked. "Honesty. It's a topic, a word, a trait — one so simple, so well-known, not hard to understand — but it has so much power and meaning behind it."
Ingram told the crowd that he'd always been interested in following God's example and living his life with honesty. His determination was solidified when he shadowed his grandfather and watched as his role model settled a work-related issue in a way that only honesty would allow.
"[Honesty] sets us apart and it will train us all to be leaders," Ingram said. "We may struggle along the way to stand up and take responsibility for what we do, but when we work towards it, every person here can become a leader, supported by God himself."
Bradenton Christian's 63 graduates attempted to steal the show with the recognition of their achievements, but their "Cubby Buddies," kindergarten students that seniors bond with over the year, wouldn't let that happen.
"You may think the stars of the show are our graduates, our seniors, but we have Cubby Buddies," said Vande Pol as he announced the kids' performance on stage.
About 30 kindergarteners made their way to the stage to perform two choreographed songs for the audience.
Kliewer left the students with a heartfelt thank you for allowing him to watch them become young adults and to help him grow as an adult himself. He said looks forward to watching as they do go on to become successful leaders in the world.
"You have left an indelible mark in the halls of BCS and the lives of each and every person you touched along the way," said Kliewer. "You will be dearly missed, and on behalf of every friend, teacher, coach and family member that is present in this room tonight, we wish you nothing but God's best as you begin this new chapter in your life."