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Matanzas’ 318 Senior Pirates Sail Past Commencement

| May 29, 2010

Done. (FlaglerLive)

The heat in the St. Augustine Amphitheater seemed to rise by a degree with every name called out this morning. But by the time all 318 of Matanzas High School’s newest graduates had received their diplomas (and the theme from “Pirates of the Caribbean” gunned through the venue’s speakers), there was more Frost than heat in the air—the Robert Frost Matanzas Principal Chris Pryor had quoted an hour and a half earlier, the Frost of divergent roads that “bent in the undergrowth” as graduates’ future began even with their first tassel-shadowed steps out of the amphitheater. (See a photo gallery of the ceremony).

All graduations are alike, and yet not two graduations are ever alike, not only because they each are the collective conquest and sigh and joy of individuals seizing an achievement absolutely unique for each one of them, but because in fleeting moments or passing glances, they reveal the immensity and uniqueness of the moment for those individuals.

Evie Shellenberger, looking at a different kind of graduation.

Two such moments stood out this morning among many. On stage, Flagler County School Board Member Evie Shellenberger struggled, unsuccessfully, to keep from crying: After decades in education, the last two in Flagler County, and the last eight years as a school board member, Shellenberger is retiring this fall. She’s attended countless graduations, handed out diplomas by the thousands over the years, and affected the lives of a city’s worth of students. Today it came down to this, her final appearance on a stage as the woman behind the signature on these young adult’s diplomas. She couldn’t hold it in. And who could blame her? She was not alone.

The second moment took place in the amphitheater. You could see the fuse light up when a woman began hoisting a big sign that read “CONGRATS DAVID!” in great black letters and “MOM LOVES YOU” in red letters, as she sensed the calling of her David’s name approaching. It was David Ringling, a huge, handsome graduate maned in dreadlocks. He got his diploma, shook hands with the two superintendents on stage (Bill Delbrugge and Janet Valentine), Pryor and Shellenberger, then walked down the middle isle to his mother, who’d literally run back and forth with her sign along the barrier that separated parents and friends from the graduates’ seats. David went toward her the way champions scramble up to their parents or significant whatevers immediately after winning Wimbledon, and his mother, who looked almost half his size, wrapped him in an embrace as colossal as it was emotional: This, too, is what it came down to, that embrace, that kiss on the forehead, that celebration four years in the making. (The full David Sequence is included in the photo gallery.)

That took place during the awarding of diplomas. Earlier, it was that portion of the ceremony where people on stage deliver speeches, and people in their seats act like hoards of Simon Cowells, but more politely. Not that they had to bring out the gongs in the hot-house amphitheater: the speeches were relatively brief, though Pryor, the principal, was not about to let his senior class get away without one last shower of top-shelf references: He started with William Jennings Bryan (“Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice”), went on to Robert Frost’s decision to take the road less traveled, and finished on lyrics by David Wilcox (“Just go, you got your chance/You can’t be timid in the four-lane dance.) (Read or listen to Pryor’s full address here.)

Pryor, who could hold his own conversationally with Bryan, Frost and Wilcox at the same table, had a slightly harder time eliciting a response from the Facebook and Twitter generation, to whom sentences longer than 140 characters are now part of their foreign language curriculum.

Cameron Jacobs Does Ferris
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So it was left up to Cameron Jacobs, the salutatorian with the Tom Cruise smile and Ferris Bueller quotes (unattributed, mind you), to demolish the rhetorical launching pad Pryor tried to build for his seniors’ send-off with American Graffiti humor: “When I originally sat down to write this speech I was faced with a pretty big dilemma,” Jacobs began. “I’m extremely lazy. So like all great high school students who’ve come before us, I first went on Wikipedia for some ideas. But that didn’t really help, so I procrastinated and put it off until yesterday. I’m just kidding, I did it on the way here. Of course, the real dilemma about this speech is to try to keep everyone’s attention for the five minutes I have here, and because if any of you are like me you’ll want to leave here as soon as possible to go to all those Facebook parties.”

But Jacobs did, with moving moments of his own to boot, especially when he spoke earnestly of his parents’ love, or of the road ahead Pryor had alluded to: “I know the next steps are going to be far from easy. We may lose loved ones, we may break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, who we thought was The One, and we may even fail a class or two. But you must keep you head up. Everything happens for a reason, and for the class of 2010, that reason will be to succeed.”

Finally, a few highlights about the Matanzas Senior Class of 2010:

  • Seniors contributed 18,451 hours of community service.
  • They were awarded $934,350 in scholarships.
  • 318 students graduated.
  • Two students are rated nationally for Olympic style weight lifting (both are also state champions)
  • Tim Scott is 3rd in the nation in his weight class
  • Foster Carasia is 2nd in his weight class
  • Senior Kristin Petrin was selected as Teen Chef of Florida by the Culinary Art Institute in Jacksonville.
  • 392 Advanced Placement tests were administered this year. The results aren’t in yet.
  • This was the third graduating class at Matanzas, which has been open five years.
  • Corisa Kons was the valedictorian. She preferred not to speak today.

What said it all.

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