PALMETTO -- For many students, they are always waiting.
Waiting to graduate high school, waiting to finish college, waiting to get a job, waiting to find their soulmate, waiting to be successful, waiting to be happy.
"It is time to stop waiting to be successful," said Martin Vera, who graduated Wednesday night from Palmetto High School at the Bradenton Area Convention Center. "The time to be happy is now. The time to be successful is now at this very moment."
Vera, 18, will study architecture at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa this fall. Earlier this month, Vera was awarded a Golden Herald award in art.
Vera was one of four student speakers during the ceremony in which 395 students were awarded diplomas. The students told each other to rise above and move forward, but always remember Palmetto is home.
"Know that you'll always have a family of 395 who'll always have your back, no matter what," valedictorian and class President Mia Thomas told her fellow graduates.
Thomas, 17, will attend
the honors college at Florida State University in the fall to study business management and finance.
The Palmetto High School Class of 2015 set high standards for those who come after them, 18-year-old Davis Fulghum told graduates. Fulghum, the junior ROTC battalion commander and class secretary, said the class brought spirit back to Palmetto High with their confetti cannon, body paint and tailgates for sporting events. Palmetto High students even tailgated at a game being played at Manatee High School, Fulghum said.
"We set the standard," Fulghum said.
Karla Brogdon, a guidance counselor and senior class sponsor, had words for the class.
"My journey started just as your own," Brogdon, a Palmetto High School Class of 1976 graduate, told students. During 35 years in education, Brogdon spent the last 28 at Palmetto High School.
Brogdon listed a number of achievements the school received achieved despite the questionable reputation she said it may have in some quarters.
"We know there is nothing wrong with us," she said.
The evening also had a somber note as the class remembered the late Kyle O'Halloran, a senior at Palmetto who was killed Christmas Day under unusual circumstances.
Police say O'Halloran was killed when a drug deal went wrong and he fell from a speeding car suffering traumatic head injuries.
The O'Halloran family claim their son was robbed of jewelry and thrown from the vehicle in suffering the fatal injuries.
The football team honored O'Halloran at their spring game last week and a chair -- adorned with a long-sleeved No. 4 T-shirt, O'Halloran's football number -- was left open at the graduation. Before the students sat down after entering the auditorium they held up four fingers on each hand and shouted "Four for Kyle."
Fulghum also mentioned O'Halloran in his speech.
"Let us live life like our classmate Kyle," he said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.