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A spirited class shows its colors

By CARY DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 26, 2002

NEW PORT RICHEY -- They didn't want to graduate in a drab gray gymnasium. So in the days leading up to the big night, they took up brushes and gave the place a fresh coat of the school colors: blue, orange and white.

Assistant principal Michael Asbell has come to expect that kind of spirit and dedication from the Ridgewood High class of 2002.

"You guys have been so awesome," Asbell told the graduates. "You guys make coming to work worthwhile."

Ridgewood graduated 347 seniors Friday night in a two-hour ceremony filled with tears, jokes, inspirational speeches and a blinding array of camera flashes. One after another, the graduates walked into the gymnasium with their personalities on display. Some swaggered. Some shuffled awkwardly. Most smiled. Some were too cool for that.

Relatives and friends ate it up. They took turns screaming and jumping into the procession line to get closeup pictures of their favorite graduates.

As Stephanie Ulitto took her turn in the spotlight, her brother couldn't hold back. Larry Ulitto stopped his sister and kissed her cheek.

"I'm so proud of her," Larry Ulitto, a 1997 Ridgewood graduate, said of his sister, who plans to become a teacher. "She's graduating with double honors. She's super smart."

Beth Anders, the tall, blond valedictorian, was the class president for four years. She also was a cheerleader. "To all the blonds and cheerleaders, this one's for you," Anders said before thanking her teachers, parents and friends for their support.

Salutatorian Kathleen Cummings urged classmates to forget about what they think the world expects from them. You don't have to go to an Ivy League school or make partner at 30 to be successful, she said. "To thine own self be true," she said, quoting Shakespeare.

The class of 2002 has collected more than $700,000 in local scholarships, said principal Art O'Donnell. The class includes scholars -- Cummings earned a perfect 800 on the verbal part of the SAT -- and accomplished athletes.

Beyond that, said student body President Joeyn Dearsman, "this is also the coolest and best-looking class."

"So long," Dearsman said to her classmates, "and peace out to the orange, white and blue."

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