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Importance of 'every second' is stressed

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 26, 2002

In a packed gym, Christina Calandro stared at a sea of faces Friday on one of the biggest nights of her life. Though hundreds stared back, there was one important face missing.

Her father, Anthony, fought to be at River Ridge High School to see his child graduate. He struggled to stay alive just a bit longer to watch 17-year-old Christina grow up.

But lung cancer took his life on Feb. 1.

"The night before he passed away, he said he was trying to stick around as long as he could," Christina remembered before graduation ceremonies, where she and 388 others were honored.

Christina juggled anatomy class, honors subjects and school meetings as class president while taking her dad to radiation and then chemotherapy treatments. When he went into the hospital in January, she was at his side.

"I stayed with him every night. I wouldn't leave," she said. "If he coughed, I was there. I was up all night. He always told everyone that I was his No. 1 nurse."

Not only did Christina manage to stay in school throughout her father's illness, the sale of their home, a move to a condominium her parents could afford, and then his death, she also earned straight A's. She graduated with a 3.8 grade point average.

"She's just a remarkable young lady," said principal Tammy Raybon several days before graduation.

During her speech Friday night, Christina urged her classmates to let their parents know they love them. "Make every second count," she said, stopping to thank her mother, Renee.

Other speeches at the ceremony were given by salutatorian Chris Mazza and two valedictorians, Bijal Parikh and Stacy Carson.

Other accomplishments this year for River Ridge: the softball team was second in the state for the Class 4A championship; both girls' and boys' tennis teams were conference champions; and, for the second straight year, the school won the top score in the overall sports placements competing against other Pasco schools.

One senior, Matthew Pietrzykowski, 17, was a National Merit Scholar semifinalist. The graduating class received a little more than $1-million in scholarships this year.

Christina got a full four-year scholarship to the University of South Florida. One of the essays she wrote to apply for the scholarship dealt with the death of her father, who was 66 and a semiretired contractor. She's contemplating a career in medicine now.

After the news of her dad's cancer the day before Thanksgiving, Christina went fishing with him and took every chance she could to say she loved him.

She hopes her classmates learn to appreciate the people in their lives. It's the biggest lesson for her this year. "I would rather have had the loving family I've had (in her 17 years)," she said, "than for him to have passed away when I'm 80 and not have the bond that we did."

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