Lakewood Ranch High School students reminded they are more than numbers

PALMETTO -- Lakewood Ranch High School graduate Rebecca Deibert crunched the numbers although she openly admits math was never her best subject.

The LWRHS Class of 2015 has walked in and out of classroom doors an estimated 1,400 times, eaten approximately 720 lunches, woken up about 1,100 times before dawn and completed somewhere around 3,600 homework assignments.

Deibert told 472 graduates Thursday they are more than numbers.

"Life is way too beautiful to be reduced to a game of numbers," she said. "Leave the numbers to God, who can count ever hair on your head and to whom you are always No. 1."

For Craig Little, the ceremony at the Bradenton Area Convention Center was special coming in his first year as principal. Since 2010, he's been assistant principal before his first school year as principal began in July.

"This class is my favorite," he said.

In his speech, Little called upon students individually and in groups to be recognized for various achievements during high school. By the end of his speech, no student was left sitting.

"Everyone one of you played a crucial role in our school," he said.

When students were later called and handed their diplomas, Little moved each tassel from one side to the other after shaking hands.

Before presenting the colors or singing the national anthem, the packed auditorium saw a special senior year in review video with a slideshow of photos and videos of students talking about their favorites moments at the school.

For class President Bailee French, it's all about being a Mustang. French's parents are educators who taught at Lakewood Ranch High School when she was younger. Her mother, Macie, is still a math teacher at the school. Her father, Don, is assistant principal at Braden River Middle School.

"I've been raised a Mustang," she said, a trait she said she shares with a lot of fellow graduates. "We've grown up with the school."

In her speech, French encouraged graduates to find their passion and follow it. To laughter from her fellow graduates, French quoted lyrics from a Miley Cyrus song, although she said Cyrus was no longer the same Hannah Montana figure students grew up with.

"Remember only God can judge us. Forget the haters cause somebody loves ya," French said, quoting lyrics from the song "We Can't Stop."

In keeping with tradition, student speakers auditioned to address the graduates and were chosen by a panel of faculty and staff. Deibert was a chosen speaker.

Kayla Butler, whose speech focused on failing, was the other.

As a freshman, Butler said she tried out for the cheerleading team, but failed.

"I didn't make it," she said. "I thought I was a loser."

If Butler hadn't failed to make the cheerleading team, she wouldn't have won, she said.

She ended up joining FFA and thriving. Butler will head to Oklahoma State University in the fall to be part of the rodeo team.

"Learn to fail or fail to learn," Butler told graduates.

Even when they do fail, Butler told them to keep one thing in mind: "We are all here today because we won this game."

Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.

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