Mariana Botero almost didn't graduate from the State College of Florida Collegiate School; she almost didn't come to America at all.
During Friday's graduation ceremony, Botero stood at the podium and recounted her early years of life in her home country of Colombia and how different it could have been. Her hometown didn't have malls or chain restaurants.
"My grandfather was a man of prominence, but it was also a time where Colombia was undergoing a civil war and power was dangerous. One thing led to another and I was this close to being kidnapped and held for ransom by the FARC ... the most prominent terrorist group in my country," Botero said.
Her family fled Colombia and came to Florida, where Botero said they have no family. She entered SCFCS in the sixth grade and received her high school diploma along with 83 of her classmates Friday morning at the Neel Performing Arts Center. The group of students will return Friday night to receive their associate's degree from the State College of Florida in a separate ceremony.
More than half of the 2018 class made the SCF Dean's or Principal's list at least once, according to school officials.
"I'm fortunate enough to say my family was able to escape and I am not a guerrilla fighter but I am a fighter for what I believe in," Botero said. "And I am here today still living out the dream that has chosen me."
She went on to thank school faculty and staff for their efforts in educating students and their ongoing support.
"You guys saw potential in us when we could not," Botero told her teachers and professors, and encouraged her fellow graduates to follow their dreams.
"Yes, we've reached the end of this chapter, but we're still beginning the next. And if you give up, not only do you sell yourself short, but you're cheating the world of your destined purpose," Botero said.
Christina Bobrek and John Thompson, who also received their diplomas Friday, were named to the 2018 All-Florida Academic Team. Both hope to continue their education into medical school.
"It was actually a shock to me," Bobrek said of the nomination.
Bobrek plans to attend the University of Florida with hopes of becoming a doctor.
"Every time I see an accident on the side of the road, I just wish I could help people and as a doctor, you're obligated to do that, so I think that would be interesting," Bobrek said.
Thompson also plans to attend UF and study neurology.
"I've worked at a couple different hospitals with some doctors, hands-on, and I've learned that I'm very interested in the brain and that type of thing. So, for me, that just seemed like the right choice. It's always been the right choice for me," Thompson said.
During the graduation ceremony, several other students were recognized for their achievements:
▪ Ronan Bustamante — with a weighted 4.8 high school GPA and 4.0 college GPA — was named the Collegiate School Outstanding Graduate.
▪ Laura Whalen received the Appreciation Award.
▪ Alex Gibson received the Achievement Award.