Nease graduates reflect on past, look forward to future


A class of 552 local students graduated from Allen D. Nease High School on Saturday at the University of North Florida (UNF) Arena. 

Before the presentation of diplomas, district and school leadership and the class’ salutatorian and valedictorian addressed the audience of graduates, staff and teachers, family and friends.

St. Johns County School District Superintendent Tim Forson reminded the graduates to be reflective as they chart their next path in life.

“I know how fast your life is,” Forson said. “I don’t know where your quiet place is. Is it the beach? Maybe it’s somewhere else that you find is your place to be reflective. But in this fast-paced world that you’re in and that you’re about to enter, be reflective. Think about how can I make the world a better place.”

St. Johns County School Board Chair and District 4 Representative Kelly Barrera shared similar advice, encouraging graduates to be present in the moment.

“It’s a hard thing to practice and especially during this busy and exciting time,” Barrera said. “But I want to remind you that each day is a gift. Today and in your adventures ahead, never take any single moment for granted.”

Ajay Sarma finished as the class’ salutatorian, ranked second with a GPA of 4.7933. With plans to attend Harvard University in the fall, Sarma nostalgically and comically reflected on the past four years, while also providing insight about the next chapter.

“The reality is it’s more like opening a whole new book with maybe some of the same characters,” Sarma said. “Whether you’re going to a four-year college or university, a trade school, joining the armed forces or going right into the workforce. Whether you’re planning on living in St. Johns County for the rest of your life or moving across the country, this is a huge shift. And it might sting for a little bit. But I think that’s just part of growing up.”

Elise Belkin finished as the class’ valedictorian, ranked first with a GPA of 4.8403. With plans to attend University of Florida in the fall, Belkin incorporated music into her speech, playing several songs on the keyboard that symbolized her message. 

“It takes initiative to build a foundation,” Belkin said. “Learn the first chord, the first four notes and then you can create. 

“These four years of high school at Nease, you built that foundation,” Belkin continued. “I hope that you’ll use the foundation you’ve built here to play the notes how you want to and learn new chords along the way.”


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