To the high school classes of 2011, you made it.
At times, you probably didn't think you would. Neither did your teachers. Why else did they call your parents in for those conferences?
Congratulations. Hard work and perseverance paid dividends. Despite the knowledge in your head, there are a few things about your education you probably didn't know or have forgotten.
Were you aware that a few of you wore uniforms in a short-lived elementary school experiment?
Or that John Long was your school superintendent, not the name affixed to a middle school building in Wesley Chapel after his untimely death just a year into retirement?
You got an early history lesson. Four months after you started kindergarten, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach the president.
That is not your only footnote in history. You are the children whose kindergarten year paralleled the election of Jeb Bush as Florida governor, a new emphasis on standardized test results and the debut of school grades.
Your school careers also began without deputies on elementary campuses. The school vernacular did not include "lock down.'' Hanging chad became a second-grade civics lesson and a year later "terrorist'' joined your vocabulary.
When you entered school, there was no impact fee, nor sales tax, for school construction. Many of you learned in portable classrooms in schools so crowded you ate lunch at 10:30 in the morning; went outdoors to get to a restroom and had to move to the main buildings during severe weather. At times, you were jammed with 30 or so other students in classes intended to house just 20. There were so many rows of portables for your entry into middle school that the village of classrooms was known as Sixth-Grade City.
One year you didn't get to compete in the district science fair because of budget cuts. Another time all field trips got axed. You had fewer opportunities to play interscholastic sports, but you got to pay money for the privilege to do so. You never got to go to summer school unless you needed 10 days of remedial reading.
In DEAR, you dropped everything and read under a strategy you derisively referred to as shut-up and read. You took enhanced driver safety lessons because of the tragic death of high school drivers who preceded you.
Your electronic devices went from being prohibited to being a staple of education and communication. You texted instead of called. You hooked-up instead of dated.
You groaned as your helicopter parents checked Esembler.
Some of your acquaintances learned exclusively over the computer and telephone via virtual school. On-line used to mean waiting for lunch in the cafeteria, not how you earned course credits.
Some of you got funneled into advanced placement classes for which you were ill-prepared.
But you had a blast, as indicated by your Facebook photos and pop culture choices. You are the generation that grew up reading Harry Potter, listening to bubble gum pop that matured into rap and hip-hop, and watching television programing about dinosaurs (Barney) and Neanderthals (Jersey Shore.)
Your teachers challenged you from multiplication tables to Pythagorean theorem to senior projects. Meanwhile, they had to toss in lessons about character, drug education and life skills because parents do such a minimal job on those topics.
You can be self-absorbed (aren't we all?), but also selfless. Community service comes second nature to you because you've encountered people who are homeless and hungry or who need a toy at Christmas. You are color blind on racial issues and sensitive to put-downs attributed to others' ignorance of gender, sexual orientation and ethnic differences. You want a greener planet, social injustices corrected and a fair chance at economic opportunities beyond low-wage jobs.
Think fondly of your high school years, but do not let them be your peak in life. Your teachers have molded you into creative and critical thinkers. You have chances to become tradesmen, doctors, lawyers, mechanics, public servants, business owners, scientists, financial wizards, engineers, sales associates, educators and perhaps even journalists.
Move forward in life and strive to make your community a better place.
We're counting on you.