Lely High School Principal Ken Fairbanks said it would be good for the Class of 2011 to leave Lely High School.
“It’s good to see them gone. They need to spread their wings a little bit,” he said.
But while he knows it’s time for them to go, he’s sad they are leaving.
“This was a really good class. I have known some of these students since kindergarten,” said Fairbanks, who was an elementary and middle school principal before taking the helm at Lely. “And these kids have done amazing things. Some of them are going to Amherst, West Point, (the University of) Florida.”
With cheers, and a few tears, more than 300 Lely High School students received their diplomas at Alico Arena on Friday evening. They join more than 2,800 Collier County seniors from 11 high schools who received their diplomas Friday.
Before the pomp and the circumstance, as the clock ticked closer to the appointed hour of graduation, the Lely High School seniors could be heard cheering, even over their chatting family and friends in the arena.
“I’ve had different emotions (about graduation),” said valedictorian Jasmine Vecchio, 18. “This morning, I was sentimental. Now I am happy. I will probably be crying at the end of the night.”
Jasmine, who will attend the University of Florida and will study biology, said she is ready for the freedom that comes with graduation, but will miss Lely.
“I will miss the people – my teachers and my friends. We will never be all together again,” she said. “I will really miss them.”
Eliezer Gonzalez, 19, said graduation’s arrival feels “amazing.”
“We’ve had some great times,” he said of the Class of 2011. “We’ve proved people wrong. Lely gets a bad rap, but we made it.”
Eliezer, who will join the United States Army after graduation, said he will miss his alma matter.
“The diversity, the friends. This is a good school to go to,” he said.
Senior Class President Oriny Dera, 18, said graduation felt “surreal.”
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” she said. “We were all unified. There was no clique or group. We were all friends. We are family.”
Senior Bailey Quinn, who spoke at graduation, said she would hope that her fellow seniors could write an essay, solve a math problem or read a book. To her, though, Lely High School was more than that.
“School has provided a place for us to grow into the people we want to become,” she said. “What I see in this graduating class is a family. A family brought together by Lely High School.”
Bailey said the Lely students faced criticisms and doubts because of where they went to school. That they were somehow less than the other high school students in Collier County.
“We have proved them wrong as we walk across the stage tonight,” she said.
Senior Zakriya Rabani said Lely has been his home for the last four years.
“College may be fun, but I know what I love and that is Lely High School,” he said. “This school is my life. … I am proud to stand where I stand today. I don’t regret being a Trojan, I take pride in it. … I will always, to the end of my days, live, love Lely.
Mary Ann Gemmill, the chief administrative officer for the Collier County School District, said the students had much to be proud of.
“After today, it’s your call, your choice, your path,” she said. “Go out there and make a remarkable life for yourself. Stay true to fostering what you’re passionate about and what you want to share with the world.”
Fairbanks told the graduates that no one, as they move on, will know their past.
“Only you have control over your future,” he said. “(But) You are a Trojan for life. Stand up and step out.”
Oriny, who plans to attend Florida Gulf Coast University this fall to study deaf interpretation and deaf education, said she hopes to one day come back to Lely High School.
“I want to stand up there and do sign language for the classes to come,” she said.
Connect with K-12 education policy reporter Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers/