ESTERO — Holding a bouquet of pink flowers in his hands, Delric McNeal stood outside the doors of Germain Area on Saturday afternoon.
“I got the card and the money with it, too,” he said.
Delric McNeal was waiting for other family members to arrive so they could find seats inside the arena and watch his first-born daughter, Chealsce McNeal, graduate from South Fort Myers High School.
He described the moment as “crazy” and “surreal” because he realizes that “Big Girl McNeal” is grown up.
“But dad’s always going to be there, anyway,” he said.
The commencement ceremony drew many people who, like Delric McNeal, were there to watch a loved one transition from high school to the real world.
Katie Scoville, assistant principal of curriculum, said 294 students, known collectively as the “wolf pack” because of their school mascot, were walking in the ceremony. She estimates that a team of 10 to 15 people, which includes “every guidance counselor” at the school, puts time in during the semester to pull off the large event.
Scoville believes the South Fort Myers Class of 2011 will have an easier time adjusting to the challenging economy than other freshly graduated students because of the high school’s 17 academies, which offer classes in areas such as medicine and engineering. Some graduates will be able to immediately enter the workforce as certified nursing assistants or as automotive technicians, Scoville said.
“If they hold on to their goals and don’t get distracted, then they will do fine.”
Graduate Juan Saldivar believes he won’t be distracted from his dream of becoming a registered nurse, and he’s got the scholarships to prove it.
Saldivar, who plans to be the first person in his immediate family to get a post-secondary education, will be attending Edison State College free of charge this fall.
“I don’t have to worry about paying for a class or a book,” he said.
Saldivar’s cousins, Maria and Jose Torres, graduated with him. Together, Saldivar and the Torres twins had about 30 family members in the arena. That kind of continual support has made all the difference for them, according to Maria Torres.
“They pushed us really hard not to give up,” she said.
During the ceremony, Brittany Davis and John Paul Fiore, summa cum laude graduates, gave a joint commencement speech. Both students earned grade point averages beyond 4.0 during their time at South Fort Myers High School and will be attending the University of Florida in the fall. Fiore will study political science; Davis plans to double major in chemistry and biology.
Davis reminded students they would now be in charge of their own lives.
“If we want to go to the bathroom, we won’t have to ask. We won’t need a pass to be in the halls,” she said.
Fiore encouraged his classmates to seize their new freedom.
“Never forget to dream because dreams are touchstones of our character,” he said.
Three generations of Fiore’s Portuguese-Italian family watched him give his speech and later stride across stage to get his diploma. Cerusa Viellra, his maternal grandmother, said everybody loves Fiore because he is a “very special boy.”
“I believe we are very proud. I want God to give me plenty of life so that I can see him achieve all he deserves,” Viellra said in Portuguese.
Once all the diplomas and certificated of completion were handed out, the Class of 2011 stood as a “wolf pack” one last time and pitched their graduation caps in the air.