Amid the excitement of graduation, Lakewood Ranch High students find time to reflect

Speaker motivates Class of 2019 at Lakewood Ranch High graduation

Sophia Sahr was one of three speakers at Lakewood Ranch High School's May 18, 2019, graduation ceremony.
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Sophia Sahr was one of three speakers at Lakewood Ranch High School's May 18, 2019, graduation ceremony.

Behind every high school graduation is more than a decade of hard work. Sometimes the past, with all of its valuable lessons and little moments, can get lost when students are dreaming about their future.

Rachel Weronik, one of three commencement speakers at Lakewood Ranch High School’s graduation ceremony, asked students to pause and reflect on Saturday.

“There are plenty of people who are telling us about moving on to bigger and better things,” she said. “I want to be the one to remind you of where you came from.”

They gathered at the Bradenton Area Convention Center to realize a collective dream, but Weronik urged the seniors to first remember the defining moments and influential people who made graduation possible.

She then looked to the future, encouraging Saturday’s graduates to think big and — every once and awhile — to reflect on the journey.

“I hope that no matter what life may throw at us, we welcome it with grace and we don’t give it the satisfaction of beating us down,” she said.

Weronik recognized the graduates’ family members, and the extended family that students grew to know at Lakewood Ranch. The staff remembered birthdays, cheered them on at sporting events and assured students that graduation was in reach.

Melinda Lundy, an assistant principal at Lakewood Ranch High School, moves a senior’s tassel during graduation, hosted at the Bradenton Area Convention Center on May 18, 2019. Giuseppe Sabella

“It is one thing to be a provider of education,” she said. “It is another to become a mentor and a trusted adviser to their students, so thank you. This day is celebrating you all just as much as it’s celebrating us.”

Teachers and students often laughed alongside each other, through all of the triumphs and mistakes. If anything, high school imparts a sense of humor, said Sophia Sahr, the next speaker at Saturday’s celebration.

Humor and happy moments can get lost after graduation, in the chaos of work and everyday obligations, Sahr said.

“Laughter: It’s something that transcends boundaries, crosses cultures and breaks the language barrier,” she said. “It’s universal. As I stand here, I urge you to look back at all those happy times and the hard times that brought you this moment.”

It can be especially hard to step away from the comfort zones they discovered in high school, she continued, listing sports teams, clubs and art classes. But if they stayed true to themselves and took advantage of their unique skills, the Class of 2019 could elicit positive change in the world.

“Tear down boundaries, break the glass ceiling, destroy discrimination and leave everyone who ever doubted you reeling,” Sahr said.

Offering the students a final chance to reflect on their journey to graduation, Julianna Catena pointed to kindergarten, a seemingly small but vital step on the path to high school graduation.

“About 13 years ago, we began our journey to enjoy this very moment,” Catena said. “We learned our ABC’s. Do you remember how hard that used to seem?”

Looking back, high school would seem like another small step in their lives, but on Saturday it meant everything.

It was a blur between the first day of school and homecoming. And however hard it was to admit, Catena knew her mentors — the parents and educators of the world — were right.

They told her never to change for others, to avoid procrastination and to be mindful of her health. It’s the mentors of the world, coupled with the students’ own hard work, that led to Saturday’s graduation.

“From diapers to diplomas, it was your overwhelming support, occasional lectures and constant encouragement that brought us here today,” she said.

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