Packed Panther pit
The Palatka High School commencement ceremony program listed the names of 258 students graduating Friday evening, but the ceremony itself proved the class of 2016 was more than 258 names.
In fact, there turned out to be more than 258 graduates, all of whom had different experiences leading to the culminating ceremony Friday evening.
The scene: The Panther Pit was packed with people supporting graduating seniors, but counting the faces of those in the stands would have put the stadium over capacity. The fashion statement for the night was the faces of graduating seniors printed on T-shirts worn by families and friends.
Antwan Brown’s family came to the Palatka High graduation in full force. He was one of the graduates whose name didn’t make the program because he had to put in a little extra effort at the last minute to get his cap and gown.
In the end, Brown proudly made strides across the field, receiving his diploma with the class of 2016.
“We’re proud of the effort he’s put in,” said Christopher McHellen Sr., Brown’s uncle. “He’s made it despite things that have happened throughout the year. We look so forward to his future.”
Top of the class: Molly Parrish graduated at the top of the class with a 4.67 GPA. She plans to attend the University of Florida and study microbiology. Parrish hopes to be a pediatrician.
Parrish reminded her classmates of the school spirit the class of 2016 established early, leaving a legacy for younger classes to carry on.
“Our school spirit grew each year,” she said. “We’ve left our trail at Palatka High School. … Leave a trail wherever you go.”
Carly Reid, senior class president, plans to attend the University of Tampa and student forensic science.
Reid addressed the class alongside Hayden Herrington, senior class vice president, but took a different approach to the promising words commonly delivered at graduation ceremonies.
“Fail hard. Fail ridiculously,” Reid said. “It will just make your success that much sweeter.”
“Just don’t fail yourself,” Herrington added.
Inspiration: Putnam County School District board Chairman David Buckles was not on the program, but felt compelled to tell Palatka High’s class of 2016 about the principal that led them over the years.
“(Mary Beth Hedstrom) was the first graduate to return to serve as principal,” he said. “She proves, once a panther, always a panther. And she has made history.”
Hedstrom will be the principal at E.H. Miller School during the upcoming school year. She made an emotional speech Friday evening as she addressed the class of 2016 for the last time.
Hedstrom emphasized the unique students who make up the 260-or-so members of the class of 2016.
Hedstrom said students logged more than 13,000 volunteer service hours, earned 62 industry certificates, 29 students graduated with college credits and 32 percent of students graduated with honors.
Among the accomplishments noted with asterisks and sashes, Hedstrom also acknowledged students who overcame life’s challenges along their route to graduation.
“We have a student who has had a kidney transplant, a student who has had a heart transplant,” she said among cheers. “We have 14 students who live on their own. … We have one who has survived cancer.”
Parting words: Working through tears, Hedstrom told the graduates to remember “all things work for good.”
“I’ve loved serving as your principal. … I’ve learned so much from you,” she said.