HOLIDAY — When Zane Brown enrolled in Anclote High last fall, he had the credits but not the grade-point average to graduate.
Coming from Indiana, he also needed to pass the FCAT.
Thanks to lots of support from teachers and counselors, and lots of hard work on his own, Brown, 19, made it through. He now plans to study commercial arts and graphic design in college.
"It was the first time I ever made the honor roll," said Brown, arriving Thursday morning at Calvary Worship Center for graduation practice. "I never had perfect attendance before, either."
"I am so proud of him," chimed in his mom, Carol Brown, who came so she wouldn't miss even a second of the activities.
In many ways, Brown's story reflects the tale of Anclote High's Class of 2011, its first graduating class of seniors.
At the beginning of the year, just 88 seniors were on track to meet all graduation requirements, assistant principal Kim Davis reminded the group as they sat in blue folding chairs in the worship center's sanctuary, getting ready to rehearse their "shake and take" on stage. By year's end, she said, 176 of them had successfully completed the work.
"Give yourselves a nice round of applause," she told the class, to claps and whoops. "You deserve it."
Kierra Sullivan, the class vice president, led much of the cheering at the practice. She gamely demonstrated the proper way to walk, accept a diploma, smile for the camera, all with a huge smile on her face.
She also sang a large, heartfelt version of the national anthem, her classmates raucously shouting their support.
Sullivan, 17, said she felt right at home with these teens, most of whom she's known for years.
"I like to have fun. A lot of people like that," said Sullivan, who plans to study business at Florida A&M University in the fall. "I'm going to miss the people most of all. It's the people that made the school."
More than any event or activity, close friends stood out as the best part of Anclote High for many of the seniors.
"I made friends, and had new experiences," said Rachel Seale, 17, who also earned a nursing assistant certificate and plans to become a labor and delivery nurse.
Knowing they'd be leaving people behind as they pursue another chapter in life created the most angst for some.
"Even though getting up at 6 a.m. in the morning is difficult, you're going to miss seeing everybody," said Stephen Vinay, 17, whose future plans remain uncertain. "It's actually pretty sad."
Zachery Davis, 17, agreed that he'll miss all the people he's grown close to in classes and through sports. But he's in the Army now, headed to basic training on June 27.
Even though high school played a key role in his growing up, he noted, he's got to follow his own path — just as he tried to do in high school.
His parents both served in the military, and when his father died 13 years ago, his mother continued to serve while raising four kids.
"That's always made a big impact on me," Davis said, calling his family his "rock." "They really made me who I am today."
Davis, like others, viewed graduation as an important rite. And because these seniors represent Anclote High's first graduating class, they sought to set the standard even as they kept the mood light.
No senior pranks. No graduation noisemakers, beach balls or such.
"We're the first ones," said Brandon Wigginton, 18, who plans to go into music production or the Air Force. "We have to set the bar."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.