At last, this class marks another first

Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School's 41 graduating seniors make history once again.

Published May 25, 2007

SHADY HILLS -- By the time they strolled across the stage beneath the dim lights of the school auditorium, they'd gotten used to being the first.

The 41 graduating seniors at Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School were the first kids to walk through the doors of the $22-million facility when it opened four years ago.

They were the first kids to run yards on the football field at the 89-acre campus. The school's first cheerleaders and soccer players. The first to start the drama and yearbook and student government clubs.

As the sun set Wednesday evening, they became the first class to graduate from Bishop McLaughlin.

"I don't think they've totally processed it yet," said John Mayer, the school's guidance counselor. "They moved up and established our clubs and sports teams. For them, I think it'll be bittersweet."

And bittersweet it was.

During the 90-minute ceremony, principal Jane Moerschbacher stopped during her speech to wipe her eyes.

"Tonight, you're on the verge of letting go ... all of you can, and will, fly," she said, her voice filled with emotion.

A few minutes later, before a crowd of parents and friends, graduates dressed in dark blue and gold flowed across the stage at the Eleanor Dempsey Performing Arts Center.

Most of the graduates smiled, their faces a mixture of happiness and relief. Each paused to have his or her picture taken with the Most Rev. Robert N. Lynch, bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, sealing their spot in the school's young history.

"It feels great to be out, and it feels like we're being leaders, " said graduate Patricia Bexley. "Our class was small and tight-knit. It's sad to leave."

When it was all over, the graduates filtered into the school's lobby. The room was abuzz with talk of what was next, about what the summer holds and beyond.

A photographer gathered the graduates for one last portrait together.

Parents held cell phone cameras in the air, eager to grab a snapshot of the Class of 2007. Proud smiles eased across the graduates' faces before camera flashes lit up the lobby.

It would be the first photo of its kind.

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Fast Facts: Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School
Graduates: 41
Bright Futures scholars: 22
Where the graduates were accepted: 28 colleges and universities across the country, from Baylor University to Villanova University
Where the graduates are headed: Most will attend Saint Leo University, the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida or the University of Florida.
Amount of scholarship money offered: $900,000