Even rain, thunder and lightning couldn’t keep the Bradwell Institute class of 2011 from enjoying their hard-earned graduation ceremony Friday evening at Olvey Field.
Nearly 400 seniors donned blue caps and gowns, gold tassels swaying from side to side as they waited eagerly to march onto the field in front of hundreds of family members, friends and faculty.
Puffy gray clouds rolled in, threatening the festive occasion and pushing back the start time by about 15 minutes, but Pomp and Circumstance began blaring across the field once administrators felt it was clear enough to proceed.
Splashes of color peppered the stadium bleachers as spectators popped open umbrellas and huddled beneath them, straining to catch glimpses of the graduates through the splattering raindrops.
"To the Bradwell Institute class of 2011, welcome to our commencement exercises," Principal Scott Carrier said. "I want to thank you for my first year as principal at Bradwell Institute. I’m proud of all that you’ve achieved and it will be a pleasure to hand each of you your diplomas this evening."
Dozens of families and friends watched the presentation of colors and stood for the national anthem.
Salutatorian Rebekah Smith took the stage, where she congratulated her classmates on a job well done and admitted that she struggled to pen the perfect graduation speech.
"After nine days— that’s eight days of procrastinating and one day of actually looking — I finally gave up. Yes, two days after I was supposed to have turned this in, it hit me that I was going to have to write this speech on my own," Smith said. "So I did what any desperate high-schooler would do in a time of need — I went to Google and typed in, ‘speeches about the past.’ With more than 31 million results staring back at me, I didn’t know where to begin."
Smith took her peers on a trip down memory lane, recalling past championships, school spirit and inspiring leaders, before offering the departing seniors some words of encouragement.
"No matter where we have come from in the past or where we are going in the future, what’s important is the present moment. This is one of the only moments in which all of our life journeys will converge at a single place," she said. "Yes, take a last look at your classmates; take a last look at the faculty and administration, and take a last look at Bradwell Institute. I’m serious because it’ll probably be completely different in a year or two."
Valedictorian Mimi Perry sidled up the podium next and asked the audience and students to do their best to ignore the inclement weather.
"It’s truly a wonderful day to not let the rain ruin such an important day for you," Perry told the graduates. "Tonight does not mark the end of anything for you. It marks the beginning of the rest of our lives."
Perry, who will join the Air Force after graduation, encouraged her peers to be persistent and successful.
"Do, or do not. There is no try," she said. "Tonight is special for each and every one of us. Against all odds and all that we’ve been through … we’re here to celebrate together."
And despite the intermittent showers, a seemingly endless line of shiny blue robes paraded across the stage as the students were announced, one by one, and diplomas were distributed. Afterward, the new graduates threw their caps toward the sky as cheers and applause drowned out the distant rumbles of thunder.