MANATEE -- Looking back, Patrick Facheris is almost certain his classmates saw him as a nerd.
“I think they still do,” Patrick said, laughing as he looked to his friends. He then explained how he used to have conversations about math.
Four years later that “nerd” graduated in the top 4 percent of his class from Manatee High School and will soon attend Columbia University in New York and study physics.
“I feel bubbly,” Patrick said. “I think it’s going to be incredible and I’ll enjoy all the freedom.”
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Like Patrick, each of the 450 students who walked across the stage at Hawkins Stadium had loved ones come out to watch the big event.
“I’m going to miss him, but I am so excited for him,” said Maria Facheris, Patrick’s mom. “This is what he’s worked for.”
As Emily Townsend explained in her speech, none of the graduates would have made it through the past four years without their families.
“The main reason we are all here tonight is our families,” Townsend said. “They have helped us, supported us, and taught us for the last 18 years. And without them not a single one of us would have made it. Whether or not they are blood relatives, all of us have a support system of loving people who will always be there for us.”
That statement rang true across the stadium as those in the audience made friends with those sitting around them, hit beach balls from row to row to pass the time, and tooted horns and waved signs in the air to signal to their graduates.
Shirley Carnes waved proudly at her grandson Jonathon Kesler when she saw him walk on the field. Doug Kalmbach and his wife traveled from Atlanta to see their niece Shelby Kalmbach graduate.
“It was worth the drive. I wouldn’t miss this,” said Doug Kalmbach before wishing Shelby the best of luck at Florida Southern College.
Joshua Cole’s father and uncle, both graduates of Manatee, watched him receive his diploma on same lawn they did.
“It’s the most thrilling thing since the day he was born,” said Jerry Cole, Joshua’s father.
Nearly every speech made Saturday night referenced the unique qualities of the Class of 2011. They brought Manatee from a D rating to an A, gave countless hours to the community and will soon take on the world with the same ambition.
For Lauren Walter, graduation marks the start of a new adventure in Coral Gables, where she will attend the University of Miami to study neuroscience.
“I’m going to remember the friends I’ve made and the teachers,” said Lauren, adding she is excited for what awaits her in South Florida. “I think it’s going to be fun in Miami.”