AVON PARK — Superintendent Wally Cox always ends his speeches to Lake Placid High School graduates with the hope that some will return to their community.
Karina Villagomez intends to accept that challenge. Karina was a Redlands Migrant Christian Association pupil when she came to Highlands County — she forgets exactly when, probably kindergarten or before. Like other toddlers, mostly Hispanic, she learned her ABCs there, and harmonized to “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
When her college education is finished, Karina wants to return the favor and teach at RCMA. She loves little kids anyway.
“They listen to you,” said Karina, who was one of 162 Lake Placid students to walk across the South Florida Junior College auditorium stage and accept a high school diploma.
Alphabetically, Villagomez is near the back of the line. The very last guy was Mariano Zepeda.
“It’s been this way since elementary school,” said Mariano. The upside is that he gets the biggest applause.
Thirty minutes before he would graduate, Mariano and others were handed letters that they wrote to themselves in 2009. He read a list of his best friends then. “They still are. And I didn’t like the way people throw away their trash.”
Mariano will return to the college halls in the fall for an associate’s degree in sports management, then transfer to Warner College. He hopes to become a volleyball coach.
Next was Nichole Vera, who will become a pre-veterinary student at SFSC. Eventually, she wants to practice in St. Petersburg or Orlando.
Ebony Davis, who won $14,360 in scholarships, signed a sea shell, “Love you.” As she accepts her diploma, she’ll hand the white shell to Principal Toni Stivender. “She likes the beach,” said Ebony, who wants to be a nurse.
Next in the waiting line was Savannah Connolly, who wants to become a CNN or Time journalist.
“Good or bad, short or long, you will always remember this place,” class president Melissa Barajas warned her fellow grads. “The future is truly in our hands. Let’s make the most of it.”
“Maybe you tried dyeing your hair. I went purple for the better part of two years,” Kayla Davis said in her student address. “The last four years have been such an adventure for everyone on this stage. Maybe this is when you realize you’ve come so far.”
Cox stood up and announced the winners of the Bailey Medal, Claire Joy LeBlanc and Marquavein Dakahrae Copeland.
School Board member Bill Brantley offered citizenship awards to Travis Blake Baxter and Hannah Renee Waller.