MANATEE -- Thirty-two of the 52 seniors who graduated from Saint Stephen's Episcopal School on Friday were graduating with honors.
The graduates were accepted at 106 different colleges, including 10 of the nation's top 20 universities and seven of the nation's top 20 liberal arts colleges.
Altogether, the Class of 2012 earned more than $4 million in merit-based scholarships.
No wonder Saint Stephen's head of school, Janet Pullen, said she wanted a moment to "brag" about this year's graduates.
"This is a particularly strong class," said Randy Watts, the upper school division director. Elizabeth Zeske, the school's academic dean, said this year's graduates have actually "self-identified" as being extremely intelligent since the eighth-grade.
It's a description that several students echoed. "I would have to say we're all about smarts, solidarity and swag," said graduate Victoria Stadlin. "There are a lot of who are definitely highly motivated."
Among those highly motivated graduates are Aiste Zalepuga, recognized as Florida Student Journalist of the Year, and Elizabeth Djinis, the school's only National Merit Scholar. Zalepuga will attend Yale, while Djinis will attend Duke. Other top graduates will be attending Mercer, Vassar, Southern Methodist and George Washington.
Saint Stephen's graduating class included nine seniors who received the school's first visual arts conservatory distinction. The class is also unusually close-knit, Watts said, with 15 of the graduates having attended Saint Stephens for their entire education.
"We've all challenged each other to do better," said Tony Mehanny. "It's been like a friendly competition."