NEW PORT RICHEY — The graduates of one of the newest programs at west Pasco's oldest high school wore green and white stoles emblazoned with the letters I and B.
At 87 years old, Gulf High School has turned scores of graduating classes out to the real world. But this year marked a milestone. The Class of 2009, which celebrated its graduation at the Calvary Chapel Worship Center on Friday night, included the school's first graduates from the International Baccalaureate program.
Gulf is one of just two county schools, the other being Land O'Lakes High, to offer the highly coveted curriculum. About two dozen of the 314 seniors who graduated Friday participated in the coursework, which stresses global thinking, philosophy and debate.
"You have completed a very rigorous four-year program," principal Steve Knobl told the inaugural class Friday night. "You have set the bar high."
The IB program gives students an edge not only on college applications, but also in their future undergraduate coursework. Depending on the university, IB credits can replace up to two years of college class work.
"The 2009 International Baccalaureate graduates were a quick study, highly energetic, and Rubik's Cube loaded," Dr. Deborah Lepley, the IB coordinator and assistant principal, told the 1,000-strong crowd gathered Friday night.
In the middle row of the sanctuary, IB and non-IB students sat side by side. Throughout their high school career, the students have eaten lunch, played sports and traveled the halls together.
Each August, the incoming IB students meet before the school year starts to get to know each other, their teachers and the campus. There, Lepley gives them the speech: Elitists among the IB students, or any group, will not be tolerated at Gulf High School.
"This entire class is like one big family," said Brittany Motta, the non-IB class salutatorian.
The seniors given the opportunity to speak at their graduation Friday night doled out advice to their peers and the crowd.
"Don't trouble trouble until trouble troubles you," said IB valedictorian Alice Chang.
"Take time to appreciate everyone in your life," offered graduate Kaitlynn Van Etten, who delivered the senior class message.
But the most applause, and snickers, came during IB salutatorian Mario Talanga's speech, who offered his own take on words to live by.
"A good party ends with you running around the room with your pants on your head," he told his classmates. "A great party ends with you running around the room with somebody else's pants on your head."
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 435-7312.