Dressed in gray and dark blue caps and gowns that matched the rainy weather, Gaither High School's sixth graduating class walked off into the future at the University of South Florida's Sun Dome on Thursday night. Shouts and whistles came from a full house of family and friends as graduates assembled into the auditorium. Hands, purses and handkerchiefs waved from above as family members tried to find a familiar face among the sea of square caps and tassels.
Principal Ronald Allen read off a list of class statistics that would make any principal proud. Of 598 graduating seniors, 72 finished with a 4.0 average and more than two-thirds of the class is headed for college.
Salutatorian Stefan Sleep told his fellow classmates, "Every opportunity must be viewed as a chance to gain experience and knowledge . Each one of us controls our own fate."
In a final moment of glory, valedictorian Si Winson had a sentimental farewell: "We are a product of subtle and profound influences. We have all become a part of each other."
"Remember those who are gathered here tonight. They are your memories," he said.
Some students seemed both excited and relieved about graduation night.
"It's the best moment of my life," said senior Keith Anderson. "I never thought it would get here."
Senior Jake Scott, who is headed for the Marine Corps in July, had similar thoughts. "It hasn't fazed me yet that I'm actually graduating."
_ WENDY LEMUS