A nonchalant young man said Thursday night’s graduation ceremony was like any other day, but smiled widely after he was asked what graduation meant to him.
“My family is really excited,” said Jeremy Widner, propped up in a wheelchair minutes before commencement for Southeast High School’s Class of 2010 began at the Manatee Civic Center.
During Widner’s junior year, he developed a staph infection that hospitalized him and took him out of high school. He spent three years in intense rehabilitation, all the while working on course work online and with a homebound teacher to complete his senior year requirements.
On Thursday, Widner, 21, was able to don the blue cap and gown, and accept the high school diploma he had worked so hard for.
“We are blessed to have him with us,” said Barbara Kenney, Widner’s aunt who also teaches visual arts at Southeast, as she looked at him. “Like the rest of your family, this is what we’ve wanted for you.”
He was just one of the many success stories at graduation.
“Kids struggle and some kids get in academic trouble. It’s not easy for all of them,” said Southeast Principal Mike Horne, who is retiring after 34 years in the Manatee school district.
This was Horne’s last graduation to present, which he said he was going to miss.
“They get through and fight and really, really work hard to meet their goals,” he said.
Some students had family members and friends cheering loudly when their names were called. When Widner’s name was called, most of the audience applauded.
The commencement ended with the “Alma Mater,” students turning their tassels and tossing their caps in the air.
“High school is a joy for some and a burden for others, but it’s an experience we’ll walk away with forever,” said Catherine DiGirolamo, one of the student speakers.
“We can be whatever we want to be. There’s nothing to stop us from following our dreams.”