PALMETTO -- Marissa Kessler overcame appendicitis and the January death of her father to graduate in the top 4 percent of her class at Bayshore High.
Shakeena Jackson made it to Wednesday's commencement and is now being sought after by numerous colleges in spite of dropping out of school for a year.
Elissa Alvarez's graduation doubled as a fond "good-bye" to the school from which her two older sisters, Melissa and Vanessa, had also graduated.
And Damian Cora, blind and autistic, celebrated his special needs diploma even though the school forgot to list his name in the program.
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Bayshore High's commencement, the first of six public high school graduations to be held this week, was overflowing with inspirational stories.
"She cried behind closed doors," Tosha Pendleton said of her daughter Marissa, whom Pendleton raised as a single mother for more than 10 years. "But she didn't miss any classes. She just kept going and kept her positive attitude."
In addition to her top position among her graduating class, Marissa also was president of the Student Government Association and a major scholarship winner.
Shakeena's victorious walk across the stage was especially impressive, said her girlfriend Takila Hayes, because of Shakeena's history as a foster child who temporarily lost sight of her high school education when she was moved around among foster families. "She's inspirational because she shows others who drop out of school that they can have another chance," said Takila, who attended the ceremony with her mother, Katina.
Elissa was able to celebrate her graduation in the company of both of her sisters. Vanessa, a logistics specialist with the U.S. Navy, had traveled to the ceremony all the way from Napoli, Italy. All three of the Alvarez sisters had been active athletes at Bayshore throughout their high school careers.
"I'm proud of my little sister, but this is also our chance to say good-bye to Bayshore," Vanessa Alvarez said. "This is like a family we're leaving behind."
Damian was one of only four students to earn a special needs diploma. The challenges he has overcome include corneal transplants when he was 3 months old. His parents, Lourdes and Adam Burke, are looking forward to Damian's future in an Easter Seals school and an independent living facility.
"He's come such a long way," Lourdes Burke said. "He tries very hard."
Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Or follow her on Twitter @chawesreports.