Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Wiregrass Ranch High graduates its first class

Kathleen Joy Vazquez waves to the crowd during graduation ceremonies for Wiregrass Ranch High School at the Sun Dome.


Kathleen Joy Vazquez waves to the crowd during graduation ceremonies for Wiregrass Ranch High School at the Sun Dome.

TAMPA — Christian Williams stood outside the USF Sun Dome showing friends a penny painted red and adorned with his initials.

"We decorated pennies because we're the first class," the Wiregrass Ranch High School graduating senior explained. "It's our gift to the principal."

As in almost every other way, the Class of 2009 sought to set the pace for the school that they opened three years ago. They wrote the alma mater, established the clubs and activities, created the traditions.

"The most impressive thing I think about this class is they have made an identity for this school," reading teacher Deanna Porter said, as she watched the seniors make final preparations Sunday for their commencement. "They were the leaders."

And on Sunday, they became the first and only people to hold a diploma from Wiregrass Ranch High.

"We're going to go down in the history books forever," said Christian, the student council vice president, who heads to Florida State University in the fall with enough Advanced Placement credits to begin as a sophomore. "This is something they can never take away from us."

Making their mark

The graduates recalled coming to Wiregrass Ranch when it was still a bunch of wooden portables out behind Weightman Middle School. They had predawn sports practices, lunch in the late afternoon and rain-soaked 5 p.m. dismissals.

Clarissa Stokes recalled helping move boxes from the portables to the new school over winter break that first year. That, too, gave these students a sense of ownership that marked the next few years.

"We decided what our experience would be, and it turned out great," said Clarissa, who plans to study at the University of South Florida.

The vast majority of students took advantage of the opportunity.

Of the 320 original members of the Class of 2009, 302 qualified for Sunday's graduation (299 attended). Another 13 are expected to complete their requirements before summer ends.

The class received 115 Bright Futures scholarships. Beyond that, students earned another $1 million in scholarships.

"Wiregrass was perfect, because it became our blank canvas," said senior class president Elyse Houston, who's headed to the University of Miami on a full four-year scholarship. And with it, she said, the senior class established greatness that serves as an example not just for future Wiregrass Ranch seniors, but for the whole county.

"We truly have built our school from the ground up, and today we leave our final mark," added valedictorian Monica Abdelmalak.

In his remarks, principal Ray Bonti told the class to make the best of the future, just as they made good on the chances given to them at Wiregrass Ranch.

"Make your beginning bold," he said. "Make your promises come true. … Today is your day, a new beginning."

After all the speeches came the introduction of the graduating class, most of whom handed Bonti a penny before sitting back down. Less than 90 minutes after they entered the auditorium, it was over.

All they had to do was get diplomas to put into the covers they received on stage.

Being close to the end of the alphabet, Christian Williams made it to the line first.

"Now that's what I'm talking about," he said, shaking hands with a buddy who was close behind. They headed to the exit talking about what comes next. First, they needed to find family members.

Then, Christian said, "I'm going to do great things."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at

Wiregrass Ranch High graduates its first class 05/31/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 1, 2009 11:00am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy


    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  2. Funeral held for U.S. soldier at center of Trump fight


    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102
  3. Chemical industry insider now shapes EPA policy


    WASHINGTON — For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has struggled to prevent an ingredient once used in stain-resistant carpets and nonstick pans from contaminating drinking water.

    This is the Dow chemical plant near Freeport, Texas. Before the 2016 election, Dow had been in talks with the EPA to phase out the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which is blamed for disabilities in children. Dow is no longer willing to compromise.
  4. Unforgiving wildfires affect vineyard workers and owners


    SONOMA, Calif. — When the wildfires ignited, vineyard workers stopped picking grapes and fled for their lives. Some vineyard owners decided to stay and fight back, spending days digging firebreaks and sleeping among their vines.

    Wilma Illanes and daughter Gabriela Cervantes, 8, found their home intact, but had lost a week’s wages and sought aid.
  5. O'Reilly got new contract after big settlement


    Last January, six months after Fox News ousted its chairman amid a sexual harassment scandal, the network's top-rated host at the time, Bill O'Reilly, struck a $32 million agreement with a longtime network analyst to settle new sexual harassment allegations, two people briefed on the matter told the New York …

    Bill O’Reilly was fired by Fox News after multiple allegations.