Steve McCormick took the podium with a proud smile as the applause for the processional quieted. The Ponte Vedra High School principal looked over the sea of 361 students clad in light blue before welcoming the audience gathered in the University of North Florida’s Arena May 21 for the school’s commencement program.
McCormick urged the crowd to reflect not only on their accomplishments but also on the traits that defined them. He quoted writer William Arthur Ward, saying greatness is discovered in “goodness, humility, service and character.”
“These attributes capture the essence of the class before us,” he said. “You lead by example, and you serve as an inspiration to all who follow.”
Dr. Joseph Joyner, superintendent of St. Johns County District Schools, took the podium next, joking that the students had lost the cuteness of their kindergarten years when he’d first started. He also thanked the graduates for embarking on their journey with him in his last graduation as head of the school district.
“We’ve made this journey together,” he said. “And that makes you a very special class to me.”
Introducing the salutatorian was science department chair Steve Lyons, who described Abhimanyu Ahuja with all the fondness of a mentor.
“The greatest compliment I think I can pay him,” Lyons began, “is to tell him that when I look at him, I don’t see a quarterback. But I see someone who I would trust as my doctor … I would trust him with my health, and with my life.”
Ahuja was met with thunderous applause for his speech, a heartfelt message of gratitude and a personal story about his late sister, who died after battling a mitochondrial disease. Having never shared his story with his classmates before his speech, Ahuja said he hoped it might inspire them.
“Her courage today serves as the guiding principle of my life,” he said. “And so I share with you what she taught me: never give up, no matter the odds. Trust me, you’ll find great strength in the end.”
Valedictorian Yooree Ha wrapped up the opening with a rousing speech in which she tearfully thanked her parents for their sacrifices in emigrating from South Korea, congratulated her classmates and reminded them to be grateful for their opportunities.
“Don’t take your opportunities for granted,” she said. “Celebrate and be proud, but also be aware that you’ve been blessed. Take this blessing and do good with it.”
Diplomas were presented to: Isabel Abril, Alexandru Ackland, Munir Adamo, Seema Afsh, Abhimanyu Ahuja, Emily Grace Alfaro, Cassandra Allen, Jake Anderson, Marc Angelo, Mateo Aponte, Alexis Arnold, Breanna Ashline, Kayleigh Atkins, David Bagby, Alexis Bailey, Samuel Baker, Janaya Banks, Margaret Barnhorst, Chloe Barr, Sydney Bartfield, Garrett Beckenbaugh, Christina Begeman, Alexander Behee, Klevis Bela, Elly Ben Simon, Michael Bennett, Emily Benson, Amy Benton, Griffin Berger, Hannah Berman, Ethan Best, Rishabh Bhandari, Saagar Bhikha, Benjamin Bishop, Brandon Blackwelder, Parker Blin, William Bollock, William Bomar, Mollie Bondra, Emily Bonner, Michael Bowden, Augustus Boyd, Sarah Bradley, Conor Brandon, Keegan Brennan, Ansley Brigman, Benjamin Buchanan, Alexander Buckheit, Stephen Buckley, Ian Bunch, Charles Callaghan, Megan Calvin, Alicia Canada, Megan Cannan, Anthony Capasso, Alex Carmichael, Joshua Carney, Lauren Carson, Kathleen Cashin, Gregory Celani, Alexandria Chester, Joseph Chionchio, Mason Cichowitz, Michaela Collins, Jacob Condit, Grey Copeland, Luke Costantino, Claudia Cotto, Joseph Curran, Davis Dabkowski, Andrew Dalton, Dierdra Darrah, Ricardo Davis, Fellipe Jose de Miranda, Luke Deegan, Callie Delaney, Christian DePersio, Elise Dirito, Aleksandar Djukic, Emma Dotsikas, Ryan Dowd, Brooke Dowling, Jacob Doyle, Kelly Duffy, Rebecca Duncan, Parker Eaton, Sean Eccleston, Cody Eckstein, Eric Erhard, Farrell Erickson, Wilson Erickson, Gabriel Estevez, Brianna Feldman, Emily Feldman, Sofia Ferraro, Matthew Fishman, Scott Fitzburgh, Stephen Fitzmeyer, Nickolas Fordham, Thomas Francese, Alexander Franco, Kendall Frantz, Ryan Frederick, Chloe Fromme, Ariana Genovese, Kimberly Gerbert, Anthony Giordano, Ryan Gleason, Kiersten Goetz, Tomas Goicouria, Jessica Goldman, Brigitta Goliber, Katherine Goodwin, Jade Gordon, Miriam Grant, Eric Gravelle, Kristen Green, Zachary Gregory, Kenan Griffin, Patrick Griffin, Kristan Grimes, Jordan Grune, Ethan Guckenberger, Yooree Ha, Kelley Hall, Hunter Hallstrom, Shannon Hanney, Tanner Hay, Patrick Healy, Christopher Hewlett, Nicholas Hickman, Ashley Hines, Braden Hobbs, Madison Hodges, Evan Holland, Seth Holt, Cameron Horner, Connor Howell, Joshua Howland, Michaela Hulihan, Ryan Hunady, Brandon Hurley, LucyJane Hurley, Theresa Irwin, Adam Johnson, Davis Johnson, Matthew Johnson, Nicole Johnson, Owen Johnson, Robert Johnson, Harry Jorgensen, Andrew Kassing, Julianne Kelly, Andrew Kessler, Jordan Klefeker, Daniel Knuth, Olek Kolodziejski, Nikita Kostrubsky, Calum Kramer, Brandan Kristoff, Jude Kuhn, Laura Kuperman, Briana Lahiff, Spencer Laliberte, Savanah Land, Erin Landis, Sarah Lankry, Elizabeth Lanza, Quinn Larson, Tatiana Lathion, Cole Lauer, Cade Lavecchia, Hunter Law, Jack Layrisson, Garrett Leapley, Madison Lee, Chase Lendry, Juan Leon, Nina Leroux, Carter Lewis, Lacey Lewis, Meijia Li, Wyatt Lief, Tara Lingl, Stuart Linn, Savannah Long, Katherine Lunny, Daniel Lynch, Roy Lyons, Rachel Lytle, Jonathan Magiske, Chase Malone, Sean Mann, Shannon Manuel, Breanna Marino-Kohnen, Joshua Marino-Kohnen, Lindsey Marshall, Cole Martin, Jozua Martins, Kevan Martins, Jacob Mason, Kevin Mauro, Sophia Mavec, Rachael May, Claire McAuliffe, Skylar McBride, Madison McDaniel, Jodie McFarlane, Joseph McMiller, James McPherson, Logan Membrino, Christian Metcalf, Abigail Miller, Logan Minix-Tomlinson, Chase Mitchell, Mark Mixon, Matthew Mixon, Carolina Miyares, Lauren Moatz, John Molm, Isabel Moore, Ryan Morgen, Derek Moss, Palmer Mowlam, Isabel Muir, Kiernan Mullin, Kenneth Murphy, Zac Murphy, Brooke Nasby, Emma Nelson, Brett Newcombe, Ilana Newman, Camille Nichols, Mitchell Nichols, Samuel Nicholson, Lucas Nordman, John Norris, Isabella Noto, Charles Nussbaum, William O'Hara, Thomas O'Neil, Sophia Oliveira, Christopher Orr-Kynard, Darryl Oswald, Delaney Pacitti, Ethan Pakzad, Ruvim Paly, Nicolas Parenio, Martha Parker, Faith Peterson, Hope Peterson, Mercedes Poole, Kristina Popova, Brent Popp, Olivia Powell, Samuel Pratt, Samantha Price, Marcus Proctor, Reed Quin, Kyle Raab, Gabriela Ramirez Pedroza, Collin Rawle, Jessica Reade, Paige Reed, Abigail Reimer, Marissa Reinker, Jessica Reynolds, Lauren Reynolds, Jake Richard, Kelly Richards, John Richter, Carly Roberts, Nathan Rollings, Cassandra Rosenberg, Jamie Rosenberg, Austin Rosenblum, Katherine Rosser, Ryan Rossier, Olivia Rotella, Kaitlyn Routsis, Cameron Rumsey, Addison Rush, Noah Rust, Katherine Ryan, Joseph Sarci, Daniel Sardinas, Anna Scheckenback, Molly Schillig, Olivia Schilling, Alec Schoengrund, Cole Scott, Kyla Scott, Madison Scott, Luiza Serrano, Caroline Sharko, Bailey Shelton, Allyson Shilling, Beverly Showalter, Maksim Shpylyevyy, Austin Silva, Braxton Silva, Lexi Simko, Megan Sinisgalli, Caroline Skinner, Megan Sloat, Cullen Smith, Kayla Smith, Mitzie Smith, Kendall Sobczak, Mollie Solaun, Chriss Spires, Laura Stellrecht, Emily Stephens, John Stephens, Mary Stephens, Sarah Stepp, Sarah Sternchak, Joseph Stewart, Avery Stine, Reilly Stoddard, Lauren Struble, Kelsey Sutherland, Madeline Sypniewski, Landon Taucher, Maharanth Thayver, Noah Thomas, Lenda Thompson, Emily Tronti, Benjamin Trotter, Elif Turker, Tea Turner, Nicholas Tyndall, Taylor Tyndall, Jade Uhalt, Caroline Valenti, Lauren Valentine, Madeline Van Housen, Ethan VanVoorhis, Zachary Vasiliades, Justin Vega, Marielle Vent, McKenna Vergnolle, Melody Verkerk, Julia Vianello, Jack Walker, Alexander Wallace, Thomas Wallace, Cassia Wang, Brogan Warwin, Kathryn Webber, Robert Webster, Logan Weissmann, Hailey Wells Schultz, Jacob Whitney, Trevor Wiedegreen, Lauren Wiele, Nia Williams, Dustin Wollitz, William Woods, Mackenzie Wray, Jacob Yale, Brooke Zilkowski and Abby Zitiello.