tampabay.com

Moving forward, looking behind

By DAVID DECAMP
Published May 27, 2007


NEW PORT RICHEY - It's packed.

Theater's packed, too.

Parents find seats or just stand. Students stare, thoughts going everywhere.

Could it have really been that long since they dodged water balloons in the eighth-grade parade at River Ridge High School? Since they became the first freshman class to beat the seniors at powder-puff football?

Could it really be like this, after being so cool was so important:

Nice shoes, shirts and ties on this final Friday, an orchestra playing to thousands of people in a gym and overflowing into a theater? Just to see one face?

Wait till you get in front of people.

Eyes in the stands are watery. So are a few eyes in converging lines of 412 young men and woman in purple robes and caps.

I'm already starting. I'm not going to be able to see out to see where I'm going.

Of course, everyone makes it. Seniors do that. Even Samantha Slusak, who was paralyzed in a gymnastics accident but persevered to be an honors student. Even teacher Charlene Cifelli, a class sponsor who died during spring break 2005 but was remembered in song and a big screen photo slide show.

They take in each second as they try to make time move quicker, just to get to the tassel part.

Trying to leave a place and stay in the moment is like that.

"There were so many times when we were just dying for the future to get here sooner, watching those last minutes tick down in each math class thinking, 'I just can't wait for this to be over,' " says valedictorian Mary Coursen. She "wouldn't mind one bit if we all just sat here for a while, just experiencing what is now."

Advice flows from every speaker. Be optimistic. Be yourself. Be the best you can be. And fond memories, like being kicked out of homecoming contests.

"Yesterday is experience. Tomorrow is hope," class president Alfredo Pelicci says in his speech. "Today is getting from one end to the other as best that we can."

But when one end begins with the A's and the other Z's, the best time they can make is nearly an hour. One name comes at a time, more than 400 times. A handshake, a diploma, a smile.

Waiting.

Cameras flash. Beach balls bound in the air. Applause hangs.

And finally:

Graduates, turn your tassels.

They do it.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or 727 869-6232.

Fast Facts:

River Ridge High School

Graduates: 412

Bright Futures Scholars: 115

Local scholarships accepted: $75,100.

Next step: At least 110 graduates will go to Pasco-Hernando Community College. Another 20 grads plan to go to the University of South Florida.