MANATEE -- While their high school experience was not inside a traditional classroom, home-schooled students celebrated the end of their journey at their graduation Saturday afternoon.
Family, friends and the 16 graduates gathered at the Calvary Baptist Church on Saturday afternoon, to recognize their commencement.
Graduates were students in programs overseen by the Manatee County School District, Horizon Educational Systems, Allendale Academy, Trails Private School Systems, Divine Mercy Academy and Hope Presbyterian School. But they all had one thing in common: They learned their daily lessons at home.
Support Homeschool Activities Reaching Everyone, the organization that put on Saturday's commencement, welcomes everyone.
"We couldn't teach them everything they needed to know," said SHARE coordinator Debbie Dykes. "But we only teach them how to learn."
Students Sarah Caoili and Chyene Cubino-Wilson offered their fellow graduates some celebratory words of praise.
"We all fight with our parents, but can you believe how much they sacrificed to stay at home with us," Caoili said. "Every mistake, flaw, misjudged decision was clearly not that bad because we are here."Their experience was undoubtedly different than other graduates, Cubino-Wilson acknowledged.
"Homeschooling is not for everyone," Cubino-Wilson said.
But it was well worth it, she told them.
"I also believe we get to have experiences everybody doesn't get to have," Cubino-Wilson said. "These experiences are truly a privilege for all of us sitting here right now."
She offered some more words for fellow graduates in Japanese before repeating them in English.
"It's dangerous to go alone, so take this," Cubino-Wilson said as she held up a diploma.
Motivational speakers Kathleen and Jim Hess provided graduates with some advice and words of encouragement during their keynote speeches.
"The home-schooling experience is one of the best a family can experience together," Jim Hess said.
He offered words of inspiration for the students before they embark on the next chapter of their lives, which may one day include starting their own families.
"We are passing on the torch of light to you," Jim Hess said. "We really want to inspire young people."
His wife Kathleen offered other words of encouragement.
"Life is hard. You are going to learn that if you haven't already," she said. "But God is good."
There are no shortcuts, she also told them.
"One thing that will never change is the internal love of God."
She also encouraged them to have integrity. "It is who you are when no one sees you, hears you," she said.
"It's the core and the stuff you are made of."
She also reminded them that it only takes one single lie to destroy a wholeness of integrity.
The ceremony was personal in many mays, particularly because when each student received his or her diploma, they walked over to a microphone to thank their parents before stepping down to present their mothers with a rose and take a picture.
Before the conclusion of the ceremony, graduates and their loved ones were treated to the performance of an original song by graduate Cassidy Johnson entitled "Still You Love Me."
"In spite of my darkness, how great you were. In spite of my weakness, how wonderful you are," Johnson sang. "Still you love me. Still you love me."
Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.