Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Generosity of a Community

Growing Up Everglades City

Photo by Donna Vanleeuwen | Destany Vanleeuwen and family.

Photos by Helen Bryan |
(Left to Right) Levi Johnson, Michael Rain, Bo Joyce, Christian Bee, Kyle McMillin.

Graduation and the end of the school year are finally upon us, and I can’t help but reflect on the emotions and feelings I felt as a Senior graduating high school. I was able to dance at my last prom, hug my teachers and thank them for all the knowledge they’ve provided me throughout the years, and stand on the stage to speak as Salutatorian at my graduation ceremony. The Seniors this year did not have any of those opportunities that I had.  

I look back at photos from my High School Senior graduation, and though now its just a memory, it feels as though it was yesterdayI wore my cap and gown next to the people I called my brothers and sisters. We stood together on the stage, parents, friends, and families in the crowd, crying and smiling with pride. Our graduation ceremony at Everglades City School was special and unique. Each Senior gathered photos of themselves growing up and created a PowerPoint presentation with music to present during the ceremony. I remember being a Freshman and watching the Seniors in the computer lab working on theirs, and I couldn’t wait until it was my time. The Seniors this year did not get that opportunity, unfortunately. I chose the song by Carrie Underwood, “Don’t Forget to Remember Me,” as the powerful lyrics spoke to my heart.  

To this day, I cannot hear that song without tearing up with bittersweet emotions as I think about growing up and graduating. The Seniors didn’t have the chance to make that impact on someone with a song. Turning the tassel from one side of the cap to the other is a rite of passage that everyone should experience. To be able to twirl around on the dance floor to your favorite song at your last prom should be experienced by everyone. Playing in your last game of the sport you love should be experienced by everyone.

One of the things I love the most about Everglades City is how the people in our community will come together to help one another in times of need. Since our Seniors did not get the graduation ceremony they deserved, Island Café owner and local Carol Foss designed one they will never forget. Our Seniors are so special to the community, as they are the future. “I wanted to do something for the Seniors since I knew they were not going to get the normal graduation,” Foss stated. She began thinking of ideas as locals Chris Ammerman and Connie Barker reached out to help. They decided to make them the subject of a parade in the middle of town.  

Photos by Helen Bryan |
(Left to Right) Damien Taft, Savanna Vonsteenburgh, and Levi Johnson.

The generosity from the community was endless as businesses and locals donated money to give to the Seniors in their cards. Each Senior had a sign with their name and graduation photo stuck in the ground around the roundabout across from City Hall. They gathered at the front of City Hall, dressed in their cap and gowns, just as we would gather in one of the classrooms, and together they walked in a line towards the roundabout. Standing beside their signs with smiles on their faces, the community gathered near and drove around them, holding signs and through their decorated vehicles hollered in celebration. Foss live-streamed the occasion on Facebook for the people who could not be there to celebrate the Seniors on their special day. It’s so incredible what we are capable of achieving when obstacles are thrown our way. Thank you to Carol Foss and everyone who helped to make this event possible for our Seniors! 

To the class of 2020, I hope and pray this pandemic does not make you lose hope for the future. Take this set back as a challenge to show your true potential that you can overcome and achieve anything under the sun. The world is yours. Do not get discouraged because your Senior year did not look like the ones from the past. This set back is only the beginning of your new chapter in life, and know that your futures are bright, exciting, and far exceed your wildest dreams. These past few months have been an emotional rollercoaster for you, I’m sure. I cannot begin to fathom what each and every one of you are experiencing, but I do know that your class will go down in history as strong. One of my favorite quotes for overcoming difficulties is from the Disney movie Mulan that reads, “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.” You have shown the world that you can walk through the rain towards the clear skies with a smile on your face. The world is beyond proud of you, and I hope you are too.  

Congratulations to Bo Joyce, Christian Bee, Damien Taft, Destany Vanleeuwen, Evan Richards, Kyle McMillin, Levi Johnson, Michael Rain, and Savanna Vonsteenburgh!

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