MANATEE -- The words of Helen Keller served as inspiration Saturday for the graduating class at the Out-of-Door Academy.
"Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet, only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved," senior speaker Nicholas Pearce quoted Keller as saying.
Friends, families and faculty gathered to watch the latest class of 61 Out-of-Door Academy graduates end their high school days.
Pearce provided inspiration and comic relief in his address to classmates.
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"The past four years have really been something," Pearce said with the room erupting in chuckles. "I would rank them among the top three of my most memorable four-year pe
riods of my life. ... following right the time from when I was 5 until I was 9 years old."
Claiming he studied graduation speeches for a week, Pearce also offered words of wisdom and encouragement, telling students they can be whatever kind of person they want to be.
"You have the freedom to decide what the quality of your character will be and whether or not the role you play in society will be a positive one," Pearce said. "You can't just wake up one day and say to yourself I am going to be a great person who is inspiring to children and respected by all of my peers."
The ceremony also featured musical selections by students and special awards. The 2015 Achievement Award went to Mariah Korzenok and the Faculty Cup went to Catherine Williams and Morgan Woods.
Best friend Cameron Harris sang the praises of Valedictorian Emma Henson during her introduction. Henson then spoke about shared experiences.
"We have experienced incredible grief and incredible joy," she said. "This year I have learned that sitting down on the kitchen floor eating a bowl full of brownie batter is actually an act of courage. I have also learned that it is an act of courage to reach down and help someone up off the floor when they are sitting down on the kitchen floor with a bowl full of brownie batter."
Real lessons were learned during their time together, Henson said.
"Relativity tells us that seconds, minutes, hours and years are different here than how they are in a space ship and that is fine," she said. "We have already found other things to measure our lives by. We have found each other and we have found lesson, stories and passions."
Before receiving diplomas, graduates heard from faculty member Noel Dougherty, head of the upper school. Dougherty brought two bronze unicorn bookends she received at the age of 8 to help illustrate her point.
"We don't want to provide you with an endpoint today because we just don't want our time together to end or see you leave," she said. "There is no closing bookend for you Class of 2015, because we want nothing more than for you to carry our continued love, support, friendship and admiration as you travel beyond our community. We don't want you to shelve the lessons you learned these last four years with bookends that collect dust. ... These lessons, these bookends need to go with you to college and beyond."
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.