For 370 Bradwell Institute seniors, a milestone 13 years in the making arrived Friday.
The 2013 Tiger class was the first to turn their tassels on the reconstructed Olvey Field, and their commencement returned to its traditional time after being held last year at Liberty County High School on a Saturday night.
"I feel pretty honored. It should go down in history," graduate Isaiah Alexis said about being the first to receive his diploma on the field.
Alexis joked that his classmates one day will boast about attending school with him once he skyrockets to movie-star fame.
Until then, the National Honor Society co-president will attend Savannah College of Art and Design to major in performing arts.
"It’s bittersweet," he said about leaving his classmates and hometown.
But he also acknowledged that graduation doesn’t mean his education ends.
"You don’t stop learning; that’s another thing I’ve learned in life." he said. "School was really fun for me; I really like learning, and it was fun helping my little brother and sister at home."
That message resonated in speeches presented by valedictorian Shaunquelle Sapp and salutatorian Ashlee Howe.
"Throughout our journey, we have definitely come a long way from shy freshmen to confident seniors who now can reflect on our lifelong high-school memories …," Sapp told the crowd. "Now we are prepared to leave home and make our own way in the world. Fellow graduates, you are the world’s future. You are all truly intelligent, talented and inspiring individuals."
Howe recounted the quantifiable impact her class has made in the 1,400 days since beginning freshman year: 42 of them are honor graduates, 66 are Advanced Placement students, and they earned $660,485 in scholarships. The class also has contributed 15,211 hours of community service and more than 17,000 hours in work-based learning in addition to earning technical certifications.
"There really aren’t words to express how proud I am of all of us," Howe said. "Nor are there words to describe how excited I am to see where life carries each of us."
Senior class president Michelle Benjamin presented to the school a token by which to remember the class. Three students who contributed to creating the gift, Jose Irizarry, Austin Harris and Ja’Kita Crawford, unveiled it together.
The crowd cheered upon seeing the large paint rendering of a tiger’s eyes on a canvas. The project was made possible in large part by art teacher Joanne Remppel, Benjamin said.
Performing arts also had a role in the ceremony, as retiring chorus teacher Amanda Durden led her students in singing the "Star-Spangled Banner," and the choral anthem "Maybe We’ll Meet Again."
The band also performed, and student Leah Hayes sang the school’s alma mater song.
Graduate De’Antrice Downie, who plans to major in business at Savannah State University, said she’ll miss the unity of her senior class, but she looks forward to celebrating the accomplishment alongside her friends.
"I feel happy that my high-school years are over with," Downie said. "I feel like I’ve accomplished something … it’s a big milestone."