Valedictorian Leslie Draper walked outside of the Hernando High School gymnasium to look for her mother and heard a small airplane buzzing overhead. The airplane pulled a banner that said, "Congratulations Leslie."
Draper, 18, saw the surprise message and broke into a huge smile. She suspected the novel gift was sent by her grandfather, Jim Powell.
Draper and 207 other seniors graduated from Hernando High School Monday night. And although they were asked by principal Elaine Sullivan to "maintain the dignity appropriate to the occasion" and refrain from "caterwauling," they let forth with major howls and hoots as soon as she finished talking.
"Excited isn't the word," said Bill Zito, 18, flanked by his buddies Todd Zoretic, 17, and Mark Young, 18.
Zito and Young have shared a homeroom for years. They wrapped their arms around each other, and Young said, almost seriously, "We'll keep in touch. Friends are forever."
They had big plans for the evening.
"We're partying like the big dogs," Young said.
During the ceremony, he and Zitowore sunglasses and seemed to be paying attention to what was happening around them in the last row.
Mrs. Sullivan might have wanted to pass along her advice about caterwauling to the parents, who let loose with a steady stream of shouting and cheering.
Wanda McCollum positioned herself at the rail in the stands waiting for her daughter, Dula Reese, 17, to appear in the processional. She snapped pictures of Dula and said, "That's my baby."
Ms. McCollum was trying to fight back tears as she watched her only daughter, her oldest child, graduate.
"I'm very, very proud," she said, explaining that Dula has a scholarship to study accounting at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.
"I thought the day would never come," Ms. McCollum said. "It's hard to turn her loose."