All 462 of Gulf Coast High School’s graduating seniors went to Florida Gulf Coast University – to get their diplomas, that is.
The ceremony, held at Alico Arena on FGCU’s campus to accommodate everyone comfortably, also served as a memorial for Frank Tudryn, the beloved football coach who died last month. Tudryn lost his battle with esophageal and liver cancer May 19.
The graduation program still had his name under the list of faculty; its back cover stated the ceremony was in his memory.
Tudryn’s successor, Andrew Miranti, knew that the Sharks’ popular coach was on a lot of people’s minds during the ceremony.
“It’s a different feeling without him on the sidelines, and I’m sure it’s a similar feeling now that he’s not here this afternoon,” Miranti said.
Miranti, 33, worked with Tudryn as assistant coach. Miranti remembers that Tudryn’s strength encouraged others.
“The one thing he instilled in all of us is never quit,” he said.
Like many of the parents there, Diana Toska, 45, was proud of her youngest daughter Anxhela, 18, for graduating. Diana, who finished high school in her native Albania, worked on a government-owned farm during the day and going to class at night to earn her diploma. After all of Diana's hard work there was no ceremonial graduation.
“Albania was very old fashioned,” she said.
Seeing Anxhela in her cap and gown made Diana happy, and a little sad.
“She grew up so fast. For me, she’s always a little girl,” Diana said.
Toska and her husband, Gezin, 52, came to Southwest Florida from Albania to give their two children a better life. The family has owned Tropical Palm Café in Naples for four years.
The graduation ceremony was a significant milestone in their lives in America. Soon, Anxhela will be off to college, something that would probably not have been possible in Albania.
“They have a future in this country; they can do something with their lives,” Diana said.
In her speech, Christie Green, senior class president, encouraged her classmates to do just that. Green congratulated her classmates for finally making it and encouraged them to venture out.
“Truly … (we are an) independent, talented and spirited group of individuals who know how to have fun and stand up for what we believe,” she said.
And Miranti believes the best way to honor Tudryn’s memory is to continue with life.
But he said Tudryn will always be with them.
“Everything he did for us, there’s no way it will ever be forgotten — and I’m not going to let that happen,” he said.
E-mail Maryann Batlle at firstname.lastname@example.org
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