MANATEE — Braden River High graduate Farbenzie Tcheska Williams did not speak a word of English when she moved to the United States five years ago.
On Saturday, she was one of the speakers delivering a speech to her fellow graduates during a commencement ceremony at the Manatee Civic Center.
She shared a touching story with her classmates. She got into trouble, she said. She failed classes, and the school had too many rules. There were mornings she didn’t want to go to school.
But her teachers wouldn’t let her give up, she said.
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“I stand here today not proud but humble of my accomplishments,” she said.
Her classmate, Christopher Martin Garcia, echoed her sentiment, and reminded his classmates how far they have come.
“We haven’t survived any hardship, we dominated them,” he said. “No one forces us to be great, but we want to chase it.”
While their eyes are trained on the future, graduate speaker Jennifer Nicole Klama reminded her classmates of their time in high school.
After Saturday, they won’t have to get up at 6 a.m. anymore, or 7:13 a.m. for some who live close enough to make the first bell. They won’t have to eat off Styrofoam plates anymore, or get their dose of the smell of cookies baking in the cafeteria.
“And there is untouched, beautiful green grass everywhere you look,” she said, to a burst of laughter.
She also remembered assistant football coach Doug Garrity, a popular figure who died in a car crash in March.
“We lost a teacher, a co-worker and a respected man,” she said.
Before students walked across the stage, Braden River High Principal Jim Pauley urged them to maintain their commitment to excellence and left them with a simple but heartfelt goodbye.
“We love ya. We don’t let you walk on the grass, but we love ya,” he said.