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Walk that almost wasn't

By MICHELLE JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 26, 2002

WESLEY CHAPEL -- Joseph Sims walked across the stage to accept his diploma from Wesley Chapel High School principal Andy Frelick Friday night. He joined the other 197 graduates in an evening he had looked forward to for years.

"The conclusion of one of the most important parts of our lives," said Christina Lucin, valedictorian.

Just a few months ago it was unclear whether Sims would be able to walk on graduation night. For three months he was confined to a wheelchair, hoping and praying.

"The doctors said it would be a long time before I walked," said the 19-year-old.

In October of last year Sims was in an automobile accident that broke both his wrists and left him a candidate for hip replacement surgery.

"Lots of good friends, laughing a lot and the prayer support of my parents and family pulled me through," he said.

Brenda Militello, a counselor at the high school, said Sims' recovery was a miracle.

With a full moon in the sky and a balmy breeze in the air, the class of 2002 applauded one another, thanked their families and sprayed Silly String on each other as their class song, Here's to the Night, ended 13 years of education.

Lester and Malinda Shea drove up from Ellenton to see their 18-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany Shea, graduate.

"Since she was a little girl, she always said she was going to help people when she grew up," said her grandmother. "I'm proud of her."

Shea is planning a career in medical research and will attend the University of South Florida this year.

Eighteen of the graduates received either summa cum laude, magna cum laude or cum laude designations for their academic achievements.

Lucin, who had the highest grades in her class, told those who attended the graduation at the school's stadium that this school was where dreams were made and goals were set.

"Parents and teachers knew we are destined to be special people," she said.

Autumn Yanchunis, class salutatorian, said that a quote from her father had inspired her.

"He said everything you do, give 100 percent and then some," she said. "If you do that, you will feel pure satisfaction."

Yanchunis aspired and achieved academic excellence as well as being selected as the female Pasco County Athlete of the Year.

Brent Smith, senior class president, quoted from the Bible in Jeremiah 29:11, telling his classmates not to be afraid.

"God is always with you," he said.

He and Melissa Domenech sang two songs: one for the parents, There You'll Be, and one for the class, Friends Are Friends Forever.

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