The letters came from family, friends, past teachers, pastors. They came from out of town, and straight from home. Some were simple greeting cards, others were pages long. • But they all delivered the congratulatory sentiment that tugs at the heartstrings of graduating seniors. • The Newsome High School senior class filed into the cafeteria Wednesday morning for their senior breakfast. Many of the girls wore spring dresses. Some boys donned bow ties and blazers. • They signed each others' yearbooks while they munched on bacon and drank chocolate milk, then stood in line to receive a blue envelope stuffed with well wishes.
The Blue Letter Envelope Program began about six years ago. A parent with a Newsome student at the time was asked to write a letter of congratulations for a graduating out-of-town relative. She decided to start the program at Newsome, with blue envelopes to match the school's color.
Now the practice spurs mixed emotions. In the cafeteria, boys teased the girls who started to cry when they read their letters, and then stoically read their own. McKenzie Trotti, 18, sat with friends she'd had since middle school. She's going to Florida State University in the fall to study early education.
Her mother, Shawn Trotti, who organized the letter program this year, stood nearby, reminiscing about who stole a kiss from whom on the playground, and other childhood antics.
"Typical," McKenzie said with a laugh, holding up a homemade construction paper card. "My little cousins' — there's chocolate on them.
"It's nice to know everyone's thinking about me during this time," she added, "and that people I've known my entire life or just a couple years care."
Will Worth, 18, read through letters from family members and teachers. For him, graduation is bittersweet.
"It's good to see everybody graduate," he said, "but it's tough to look back on how long you've spent with all these kids."
He's going to be attending the Naval Academy, where his brother also attends and where he'll play football. He's the youngest in his family.
"My mom gets emotional. They're going to be empty-nesters," he said. "They're definitely going to miss having a kid at Newsome."
Shawn Trotti has been involved with the program for four years. This was her first year as event chairwoman. A few weeks before the breakfast, she had thousands of letters stacked in her guest bedroom, she said.
Every student got at least three letters, she said. Some got up to 45 or 50. She estimates she handled at least 5,000 pieces of mail.
PTSA president Liz Brewer's son Tyler, 18, is graduating and attending Santa Fe College in Gainesville in the fall. His envelope was filled with words of encouragement and advice, she said, but also lessons she hoped would lend some perspective.
"You won't be able to get everything you want, but you just have to do your best and work hard, and know that nothing worth having is easy," she said.
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2453.