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ELLEN BOUKARI/Alachua County Today

Santa Fe High School graduated 261 seniors Saturday, June 11th at the high school on Raider Field.

ALACHUA – With the school year winding down and summer fast approaching, numerous high school graduations took place over the last week. Local high school ceremonies, complete with pomp and circumstance, were dotted across different locations this year due to renovations at the UF O’Connell Center, a popular venue for schools to hold their graduations.

Newberry High School held their commencement ceremony on June 9 at 7 p.m. at the high school’s Panther field. The 2016 class was made up of 135 graduates.

Hawthorne Middle/High School’s class was made up of 37 graduates and the graduation ceremony took the stage at the Phillips Center for Performing Arts at UF on June 11 at 9 a.m.

In Alachua, the Santa Fe High School (SFHS) Raiders football field was filled with family, friends and other loved ones to watch 261 Santa Fe High School graduates take the stage Saturday, June 11 at the football field at 8:30 am.

Elizabeth LeClear, SFHS principal, welcomed the crowd as well acknowledging the class as the only one to have received a medallion.

“Thank you for allowing me to have the opportunity to work with your most precious gift,” she began. “It has been a blessing. This is the end of my 30th year. I’m not quitting, but it’s the end of my 30th year, and there are not very many people that can say that the last four years were the best four years.”

Holding up a round medallion on a ribbon, “The medallion is for you,” she said. “You’re the only class that will have one because you’re my class.”

Cary Emerson, the student body president, addressed the crowd next. Through tears, she reminisced on the beginning of her years at SFHS and thanked those closest to her.

“I never dreamed that I would be standing here behind this podium, addressing you all this morning,” she said. “I’ve realized that I couldn’t reach my full potential unless I stepped out of my comfort zone. Speaking before you all today is definitely an example of that… Four years ago, I wouldn’t have necessarily considered this a privilege, however. Four years ago, I clung too tightly to my fears in the comfort of isolation.”

Then, she imparted tidbits of wisdom and advice to her fellow graduates.

“From the moment we arrive in this world, anyone and everyone has an opinion on what we should do and what we should become,” she said. “Many times, this vision that others have for us is not what we are truly meant to do. It is physically impossible to live out the vision that others have for our lives. You were created on purpose and with a purpose and you will find that purpose on the unchartered waters of your journey.”

Courtney Jones, the senior class president, spoke next and took a moment to congratulate her class on the hard work that it’s taken to make it to where they were sitting and encouraged them to keep dreaming big.

“The fact that we made it here definitely awards an accomplishment which is a testament of our perseverance and excellence,” she said. “All of us were destined for greatness – every single one of us – has the potential to put the small town of Alachua on the map – or even greater, to change the world.”

Dustin Durden, the salutatorian, gave comforting words and reminded his peers to not fear the future after completing this milestone.

“Parents, family members and friends, it is a great thing to feel to supported, and I know I do not speak for myself when I say that you all have been instrumental in my journey through high school,” he said. “Also let’s not forget about our wonderful teachers, they have taught us, guided us and prepared us for the future struggles of life.

“We face change a lot, in many different ways, and sometimes it can be a little bit frightening,” he told his classmates. “We often grow so accustomed to the way that life is in the present. When it finally changes, we might feel completely lost. The one thing that does not change in life is the fact that our life changes. It is important to remember, however, that we do not need to feel afraid or intimidated when it occurs and we do not have to see it as an end. Instead we can have hope, and look at it as a new beginning.”

Jacob Jenkins, SFHS’s valedictorian, took the podium next with a lighthearted and funny approach to his speech.

“If I would have gotten up to speak in front of thousands of people in ninth grade, I would have spontaneously combusted from sheer embarrassment,” he said. “Luckily for me, that is not the case four years later, but you may wish to keep a fire extinguisher in hand, just to be safe.”

He recalled a time when he had devoted hours to working on an assignment, only to realize that he had completed the wrong chapter by the end.

“On one fateful occasion, I was completing a round of diagonal categorization and the only way I knew how to tackle such a large and difficult assignment [was] by doing it all in one night,” he said. “After two and half hours of hard work, I had 14 out of 16 statements completed. In order to be certain that I had to do 16 in total, I went ahead and checked the assignment description on the class website. The good news was that I was correct in having to do 16 in total, but the bad news was, that I had been doing them all on the wrong chapter.”

“I just sat there in shock and then I came to my senses and had a nervous breakdown.” The crowd laughed in appreciation of his self-deprecating humor.

But he ended on a high note.

“Although this was, unquestionably, one of the worst experiences of my academic life, it did teach me an important lesson, and that was perseverance,” he said. “After that ordeal, I realized that I could work through any hardship, and so can all of you … Congratulations and best of luck to the class of 2016.”

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