PALMETTO -- When Southeast High received word in January that it had bolstered its overall school grade from a "D" to a "B," a sense of pride began to circulate among members of the senior class.
"We have a lot of drive to get work done," said senior Kaylee Glyder, pointing to the senior class theme of "All In." "We're always striving to be better than the previ
ous year, and to make a new name for Southeast."
Graduates and some faculty credited the school's acceptance of diversity for the senior class's ability to unite on behalf of its goals. Even the school's trio of commencement speakers reflected that diversity: one was the founder of a club to promote tolerance, one was a football star and another was an avid Christian who used her speech as an opportunity to "witness."
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"This is a very unique class," said Tina Maxey, who teaches English as a second language at the school. She waved her hand around the room where female seniors were preparing for their processional. "Just look at them. Look at the way they bond and the camaraderie they have with each other."
In the room where male seniors were preparing, Mark Austin, who is the first in his family to graduate from high school, stood next to Robert Barfield, who along with his older sister, is the third generation of his family to graduate from Southeast.
"We have a lot of spirit and togetherness here," Barfield said. "I think if I ran into any of these people 20 years from now, we would be like nothing ever changed."
Bria Haines said she was thrilled to discover how quickly she was accepted at Southeast after transferring there from Booker High in Sarasota. "I just came here this year and I love it," she said. "It's very friendly."
The school also showed great support for Principal Catherine Smith, who has been battling cancer for the past year and was chosen by the graduating class as this year's faculty graduation speaker. Smith thanked the students and faculty for providing her ongoing inspiration to keep on serving young people, and advised the graduating class to choose their future company with wisdom and discretion.
"The key is now to be very careful to whom you rent space in your heart and your mind," she said.
Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Or follow her on Twitter @chawesreports.