BRADENTON -- One by one, all 57 Saint Stephen's Episcopal School graduates walked to the front of a large stage Friday evening and moved their graduation cap tassels to the right.
All stopped for a moment, some adding their own flair. There was a girl who spun around and snapped her right fingers -- and a guy who fumbled in his pocket for his cellphone to take a quick selfie.
It was one of many joyous moments during the commencement ceremony at the Neel Performing Arts Center in the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota campus, 5840 26th St. W., Bradenton.
More than 800 family members and friends sat in the audience for the event, which included hymns, senior remarks, a presentation of the senior class gift and an alumni speaker.
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Dr. Janet Pullen, Head of Saint Stephen's, called it a special night in the lives of seniors and their families.
"Those emotions and feelings that you're feeling tonight in this auditorium -- excitement for the 57 seniors who have completed their elementary through high school experience and are now graduating, a sense of joy for all the wonderful memories and all that has been learned," she said. "A little sadness knowing one chapter is ending and you're leaving the known."
Pullen said she wanted to "brag" a little bit about this class, pointing out the matriculation list in the back of the graduation programs given to attendees.
"Our soon-to-be-graduates are heading off to wonderful schools from coast to coast," she said, "and even across the ocean."
Derek Silverman, a 2005 Saint Stephen's graduate, delivered the address. The programmer, who lives in New York, spoke about his path toward his career as a programmer. He encouraged graduates to say yes to opportunities.
"The short story is, the more you say yes... it compounds -- and the more you build trust with people by saying yes and getting involved in a project, the more you have the opportunities to do things that are truly exciting to you... that's sort of what I advocate to you," Silverman said.
After the commencement, Michael Gharby snapped photos with family members. The 17-year-old enrolled in Saint Stephen's his sophomore year after moving from Lebanon and will next study engineering at Stetson University.
"I am so excited. I just can't wait to see what happens next," the Palmetto resident said. "I was kind of sad thinking that I'm coming into senior year and knowing that it's the last year with those people but I'm also excited that I'm going to move on and meet new people and discover new things."
Just inside the center, a beaming Lindsay Barton was surrounded by her father and other family members. The 17-year-old West Bradenton resident said she is excited to see what the future holds for her class. The highlight of graduation night was seeing the smiles on her classmates' faces, Barton added.
"You can just tell how much everybody loves each other," she said.
Her father, Paul Barton, said he was proud of his youngest child and her accomplishments.
"I'm proud of this class. It's an amazing class," the 53-year-old said, adding he helped coach the softball team this year. "They've worked hard and I'm so happy for them all."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.