PALMETTO -- Andrew Vasquez had made his graduating class at Palmetto High proud by earning his way into Stanford University. At Saturday's commencement ceremony, he returned the favor by leading the entire audience of thousands in a round of cheers on behalf of "the Tigers."
"Who are we?" shouted Vasquez, self-described as someone who at
tends almost every school event. "2012!" responded his class and then the whole crowd. By the time he was done, Vasquez had brought his classmates and several members of the audience to a standing ovation.
Instilling a renewed sense of pride in Palmetto High, and in Palmetto overall, is what this year's graduating class will be remembered for, said several seniors and staff members.
"We started to change Palmetto this year," Brian Decker, the school's valedictorian, said before commencement. "We started to give Palmetto the respect it deserves."
"We've proven a lot," agreed graduate Robyn Murrell. "Our principal always tells us, 'A lot of people don't think much about Palmetto High, but this year we were great academically and in extracurricular activities.'"
Sports teams that excelled included girls' and boy's basketball, rowing, soccer and football. The school's JROTC group competed nationally, and the school showed exceptional gains in reading achievement, said Mark Douglas, a reading teacher and strength coach at the school.
Some students, like Brittnee Trevino, credited the high level of achievement to a strong sense of class spirit that reached exceptional levels last year, when many Palmetto High students seemed to begin taking their education even more seriously than they had been. Others, like Santiago Bejarano -- who will attend Duke and was one of our commencement speakers -- said a family-like atmosphere is what helped bolster this year's senior class to new highs.
Douglas says Palmetto High can legitimately call itself a "neighborhood school" because so many of its students are actually Palmetto residents.
"I'm excited about a lot of things going on at Palmetto High," Douglas said. "It's a very special group of people."
Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Or follow her on Twitter @chawesreports.