Class of 2016

Manatee's Braden River High celebrates a highly inclusive class of 2012

PALMETTO -- Whether they were athletes, techies, performers, artists, class clowns or academic high-achievers, members of Braden River High's Class of 2012 formed lasting bonds that superceded hobbies and interests.

That was how several graduates described themselves Thursday at "the River's" commencement ceremony at the Manatee Civic Center.

"Our class was fun because we were so inclusive," said Krystal Martinez. "Everyone knew everyone."

"Everybody is interested in each other, and everybody supported everybody," said Elizabeth Garcia, the

school's first graduate to be accepted at Harvard, who said classmates from all social groups encouraged her every step of the way to her acceptance at several Ivy League schools.

Brandon Ali echoed the inclusive description of Braden River's graduating class, saying the seniors accepted "short people, tall people, even fluffy people."

And Nicole Feldman, a commencement speakers whose jovial talk began with the line, "What was the point of high school? I have no idea," credited her class with accepting her as "the spazzy, goofy nerd I've always been."

The school's best-ever year in boys' basketball helped to bond the senior class in unique ways, drawing huge student cheering sections to each game, said Krystal and friend Ashleigh Martin. Yet another student credited Principal Jim Pauley, who is leaving the school this summer to take a central office position, with paying close attention to all students and taking care to guide them even in the worst of circumstances.

"He cared about the seniors a lot," Stephanie Blanc said. "He would call us to his office and if we were doing bad, he made us do better."

Christine Hawes, Herald education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Or follow her on Twitter @chawesreports.

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