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Osceola High grads' joy sweeter as uncertainty swept away

After turning the tassel on Saturday at Tropicana Field, Osceola High senior Amanda Bedinghaus, 18, stands up and cheers as school principal Michael Bohnet congratulates the Class of 2011.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

After turning the tassel on Saturday at Tropicana Field, Osceola High senior Amanda Bedinghaus, 18, stands up and cheers as school principal Michael Bohnet congratulates the Class of 2011.

In the line of nervous candidates at Osceola High School's graduation Saturday, Richard Restrepo was perhaps just a bit more nervous than the rest.

And grateful as he sported his cap, gown and a new perspective.

"I'm very happy to be here right now," said Restrepo, 17. "I know this moment is more important for my mom than anything. I'm happy (she) can see me graduate."

Restrepo was among 373 seniors who graduated from Pinellas County's only fundamental high school.

"They are great kids, from a principal's perspective," said principal Michael Bohnet. "Every one of those kids, when I handed them their diploma, said, 'Thank you, Mr. Bohnet, I really appreciate it.' "

Restrepo certainly did.

He was among eight students whose graduation seemed uncertain after a senior prank misfired on May 25. Deputies said the teenagers planned to line the schools hallways with 4,000 plastic foam cups filled with water.

Restrepo issued a passionate public apology. "We thought it would be harmless and hopefully a good laugh for everyone, and this was certainly not the case. … I once again cannot stress enough how sorry we are to the parents, students and administration at the school."

Seminole Mayor Jimmy Johnson said Restrepo was given a second chance.

"When he didn't believe in himself, other people did," Johnson said. "It's a fundamental school, so there's good cooperation between mom, dad and the school."

Fundamental schools mandate parental involvement. The Class of 2011 was Osceola's second graduating class — and Bohnet's first since taking over as principal in the fall. He was ready with his numbers.

"Eighteen percent of the students had a grade point average of 4.0 or better, and 72 percent scored 3.0 or higher," he said.

Those exemplary marks included that of valedictorian Hanna Demarest, with a grade point average of 4.8, and salutatorian Abigail Kaufman, whose GPA was 4.7.

During the speeches, senior class president Brittany Collins referenced Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Life is a journey, not a destination. So take life as it comes."

Then, the crowd hushed to reflect on their memories of business technology teacher Marilynn Hall, who died this year.

The joyful outbursts included the moment Staff Sgt. Luis Betancourt of Seminole was asked to stand up and be recognized.

Betancourt flew from Kuwait to watch his daughter, Valerie, graduate Saturday at Tropicana Field.

And when Restrepo's hand finally met with Bohnet's, and the principal handed him his diploma, the crowd erupted in cheers and applause.

Osceola High grads' joy sweeter as uncertainty swept away 06/07/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 5:22pm]
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