IMG Academy has never claimed to be a traditional high school. During Friday night's graduation ceremony, a record number of graduating student-athletes showed off just what sets their school apart from the rest — unmatched diversity.
"We are one of the most culturally diverse private school in the U.S. with students from 60 countries represented on our campus," said Head of School Chris Locke.
To demonstrate, IMG kicked off the celebration with a multicultural dance performance featuring belly dancers and other performers from Africa and South America as seniors flooded into the auditorium at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
After dancers cleared the stage, a band of graduates from all across the world stood behind Locke and warmed the audience by announcing which countries they were from and welcoming friends and family in their native tongue.
IMG's Class of 2018 featured 250 graduates, the most to ever graduate from the school in one year. According to Locke, 48 of those students attended throughout all four years of high school.
Valedictorian Colin Prince told his fellow seniors that he still thinks about his first days at the academy four years ago and the feelings of shock and awe as it soaked in that he was surrounded by star athletes in all of his classes.
"I remember one day sitting in Mrs. Sifrit's class of maybe a dozen of us or so, and I noticed that the whole room was filled with some of the best players in their sport. Over here, this girl was top 25 in the world in tennis, and that guy is on ESPN's football list and that guy is going to Duke for basketball and the kid right next to me is a pro golfer, and so on. It reminded me of Sesame Street," Prince joked. "One of these people didn't belong."
While sports might be the most recognizable common calling among students at IMG, college advisor Mark Riddell said salutatorian Regan LaBelle brought a new passion for public service and social activism to campus.
"Her accolades extend far beyond academia and the soccer field," Riddell said of LaBelle. "She brought UNICEF to IMG students, opening our minds and hearts to the millions of needy children throughout the world, forging strong cross-cultural bonds among those who have suffered from the devastating effects of natural disasters."
Locke said LaBelle's heart inspired others to do what they thought was right. This year, students raised money for UNICEF Disaster Relief Fund, as well as $9,000 to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Senior Frank Sanchez also led a voter registration drive that saw 71 of 157 eligible students sign up.
As student-athletes with the skill set to become influential stars in the world of sports, LaBelle said her fellow classmates have to be ready to use their platform to make a change that matters.
"I challenge as leaders of this generation to use this influence for something greater," said LaBelle. "I encourage this generation of athletes to create an identity outside of sports, to go out into the world and find what you're passionate about to inspire and create change — not only in the sport you play but also in the world."
Despite what their futures hold, be it international stardom or selfless charity, Locke said IMG Academy will always be a home where these student-athletes may hang their hats.
"IMG will always be the place you can come home to, the place that will welcome you back, long after you throw your mortarboards in the air," said Locke.