LAKEWOOD RANCH -- For Ellie Kimmell, graduation day will be one she will never forget. Not only did Kimmell have the distinction of speaking to her fellow graduates as their Valedictorian who achieved an almost perfect grade-point average, she also celebrated her 18th birthday on this special day with a new and exciting life ahead of her.
Kimmell, along with 53 fellow classmates, received their diplomas Saturday during commencement ceremonies held on the campus of The Out-of-Door Academy in Lakewood Ranch, a private school that prepares students for the rigors of a college curriculum. The 2014 class has proven its worthiness. The entire graduating class has been accepted to colleges and universities across the country, and 98 percent of the students have received merit and academic scholarships.
"They are amazing students, very gifted and talented, and I have nothing but praise and admiration for them," said their academic dean, L'Tanya Evans. "I expect they will do great things to bring positive change to this world."
It was evident by their parting speeches to parents, friends, and faculty they were prepared to meet and accept the challenges of a world outside their nurturing environment.
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"Learn from what has happened in your life and focus only on the present. Don't dwell on the past because you can't be successful then," Kimmell advised her fellow graduates in a speech she called "The Seven Cardinal Rules of Life."
"Success is never final and failure is never fatal," she said, quoting Sir Winston Churchill.
Fellow classmate Quinton Fitzgerald, the selected senior speaker for the graduating class, gave some uplifting and humorous parting thoughts.
"Don't let opportunity slip within your hands. Plunge through the mashed potatoes of life, and you will get to your goal. You have already proven as a group you're great individuals with such a range of talents."
Parents of the graduates, such as Pam Brown, came away feeling satisfied their children would be well equipped to accept the challenges of college life and beyond.
"The school was all about fostering independence and focusing on self esteem. It was academically challenging and a very positive experience overall," said Brown, proud of her two daughters graduating from the academy in the past two years.
While some of the students said they wanted to experience life outside of Florida and chose to attend schools in colder climates like Michigan and Massachusetts, David Whelan said he preferred to stay close to home at Rollins College in Winter Park.
"It's a small school and has the same kind of feel as the academy, but I have mixed emotions today about leaving my friends because we've all been so tight here. I'm going to miss it."
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.