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'Soar like Eagles'

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BMHS graduates encouraged to be brave in their pursuits

By Sean Arnold

Photos: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1715334491853114.1073741927.18...

The Bronson Middle High School graduation, held May 25 at the UF Curtis Phillips Center in Gainesville, was anchored by a couple of inspiring student speeches about perseverance and following big dreams.

Valedictorian Taeya Mayes described life as a constant negotiation between the vision of a better future and the pursuit towards its realization. After deftly pivoting off a lyric from rapper Kevin Gates – “It’s the action, it’s the grind, it’s the hustle, and it’s the persistence that will allow us to reach our dreams.” – to a line from Proverbs – “When there is no vision, the people perish.” – Mayes challenged her classmates and the audience to “actually take the steps that are needed to make your vision a reality.”

Mayes reminded her classmates of the obstacles they’ve already overcome, and thanked the parents, teachers and school staff who’ve made so much possible for her and her classmates.

Salutatorian Ethan Church discussed his struggles with a genetic disorder known as Loeys-Dietz syndrome, which led to him undergoing open-heart surgery in December 2016. Church said the life-changing diagnosis left him reeling and feeling defined by something out of his control.

“I lost heart in school, friends, Taekwondo and even in FFA,” Church said. Church urged his classmates not to give into the negative thoughts that can consume a person that feels limited by the labels and circumstances they’ve come to take on and reminded them that the important people in their life are the ones who will care. He advised his fellow Bronson graduates to assume the “small town pride that makes you feel like you can conquer the world.”

Science teacher Carlotta Neill delivered a succinct commencement address but didn’t quite escape without a few tears. Neill compared her view of those students when she arrived at Bronson four years ago to how she felt that night standing on stage.

“When I first came to Bronson four years ago, in my arrogance, I thought you needed me and all the lessons I would teach you,” Neill said. “What I found was that I needed you and all the lessons you had to teach me.”

Neill told them to be adventurous and brave, and treat everyone with dignity and respect, whether they deserve it or not.

“As you take those first steps into the adult world, I would be honored to call you a friend,” Neill said in her conclusion. “Now go out into that big world, spread your wings and soar like Eagles.”

Before the speeches and diplomas were delivered, BMHS Principal Gary Masters asked students with notable distinctions to stand for ovation. Four Bronson students – Diamond Sheffield, Sean Hensley, Mayes and Church – earned Summa Cum Laude honors, which requires a minimum weighted GPA of 4.0. Mayes and Alice Huber received the Florida Bright Futures Florida Academic Scholars Award, a scholarship that pays for 100 percent of student tuition. Jacob Claypool, Clay Dean and Hensley were recipients of the Florida Medallion Scholars Awards, which offers 75 percent of tuition fees.

The BMHS Magna Cum Laude honorees, which maintained weighted GPAs of at least 3.85, include Kristina Smith, Katie Lott, Glorialys Bermudez-Mejias and Huber. Cum Laude honorees (minimum 3.5 GPA) were Camila Nepomuceno; Kady Tucker; Dean; Adam Abouzid; Jazlyn Margraf; Kayle Regueiro; Kara Snider; Caleb Chemin; Austin Houchens; Autumn Boyd and Emily Sheppard.

Boyd gave the benediction at the graduation.

Mayes is the daughter of Dr. Sharon Mayes and Pastor Eddie Mayes. She plans to major in Biology at UF. She was a member of BETA Club and was the Student Government President and captain of the volleyball and basketball teams. Mayes finished with a 4.56 GPA.
Church, who was awarded the Florida Bright Futures Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholarship, is the son of Leigh Ann Holland and Russell Church. He was district president in FFA and a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo. His GPA was 4.3. Church plans to attend Santa Fe College and then UF.