South Lee high schools prepping for Saturday ceremonies

Talk about a busy venue.

Germain Arena will play host to graduation ceremonies for both Estero High School and South Fort Myers High School Saturday, with about 10,000 graduates, family members and friends expected to pass through the turnstiles throughout the day and into the night.

Estero High School’s graduation ceremony is first up at 2 p.m., followed by South Fort Myers High School’s commencement exercises at 7 p.m. Each school is expecting about 5,000 people to attend its respective graduations.

Estero will graduate 265 students this year, while South Fort Myers will award diplomas to about 290 seniors.

For Estero, this year’s graduating class marks the 22nd to pass through the school’s halls, while South Fort Myers will graduate just the fourth class in its short history.

For the first time in Lee County School District history, no valedictorians or salutatorians will be named. Instead, the district is switching to the college model of awarding deserving graduates the distinctions of magna cum laude, suma cum laude and cum laude.

Jina Browden, career-development specialist at Estero High School, said this year’s graduating class has done much over the course of the past four years of which it can be proud.

“They put a lot of dedication and hard work into achieving this milestone,” Browden said. “I know they’re all looking forward to having a great future, and we’re all looking forward to a great future for them, as well.”

While Saturday’s student speeches will undoubtedly be filled with many poignant remembrances of how faculty, administration and staff guided them through the past four years of high school, Browden said the school’s employees also owe the students a debt of gratitude.

“We want to thank them for all of the effort they put in, and we also want to thank them for continuing traditions and establishing traditions of their own,” she said. “It really means a lot.”

For South Fort Myers, this year’s graduating class marks the first to pass through the school from freshman to senior year. Principal Tommy O’Connell said that fact alone makes this class extra-special.

“This is the first group that started 9th grade here, and now they’re graduating seniors,” O’Connell said. “They’re the ones who started all the traditions in the school that each successive class will now follow.”

O’Connell said his schools Class of 2009 also accomplished something else worth noting.

“This class actually won the Homecoming contest every year they’ve been here,” he said. “That’s unusual in itself, especially when they were just freshmen.”

Calling this year’s graduating class “the backbone of the school,” O’Connell didn’t mince words when describing the students scheduled to walk across the stage and receive their diplomas on Saturday.

“They’re special, that’s all you can really say about them,” O’Connell said.

With no valedictorians or salutatorians, South Fort Myers High School elected student speakers from the top 10 percent of the graduating class. This year’s student speakers for the school will be Jessica Ford and Tronic Williams.

Reach John Osborne at

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