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Exceptional students reach milestone

[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]
Teacher Sue Porter helps Burt McClellan with his gown Wednesday night as his fellow students line up moments before graduation ceremonies at Nina Harris Exceptional Student Education Center.

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 6, 2002

PINELLAS PARK -- Smiles and pride filled Wednesday's commencement ceremonies at Nina Harris Exceptional Student Education Center with a very special meaning.

Twenty-two graduates, despite their handicaps, reached what Pinellas County school superintendent Howard Hinesley called a "milestone."

The graduation ceremonies honoring the "very hard work" of the students, their families and the school faculty were held in the school's new facility, under construction for the past year.

Each of the graduates stood as they were introduced by Hinesley, who described their interests and hopes.

He spoke of Becky Currey's love of drama and horseback riding, of Maggie Ezzo's work as a dietary aide at Largo Health Care, of how Justin Glover likes watching football with his father and how Burt McClellan is saving his McDonald's salary to buy a car, after he gets his driver's license.

"These are very special children who are doing everything they can to reach their full potential," said Hinesley.

Several of the 20 graduates who attended Wednesday's ceremonies were singled out. Amanda Daniels was honored for doing a "special job as a senior." Louis Simpson wowed the audience when he sang two songs with a strong and melodious voice.

Matthew Mardell, named as the "class representative," spoke eloquently of his love of the school and hopes for the future.

"Wow, what can I say? When I first came here I didn't know what Nina Harris was about. Now I know. It's been fun. It's been real. And I know my dad is watching from above. I will come back and visit you all. I promise," said Mardell.

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