2007's season of change

Published May 28, 2007

TAMPA - What the student body president said Saturday afternoon was no ordinary high school graduation speech. Wesley Chapel's Joey Walker threw down a challenge to his classmates, his schoolmates and really anybody who lives in the fast-growing community in central Pasco County.

You're bored?

Just sitting around?

Stop, said the kid with the shaggy, sandy-colored hair.

"I got to thinking, " Walker said, "and it never seems like anybody ever makes anything happen for themselves around here. It just seems like everybody just sits on their butts and complains - whether it be 'there's nothing to do in Wesley Chapel' or 'this school is so boring' or 'there's no school spirit.'

"If you listen close, " he said, "you'll overhear all of that at any given point throughout the day in Wesley Chapel.

"And the truth is, " he said, "that's nobody's fault but our own."

Walker wasn't the only speaker at Wesley Chapel's speedy ceremony at the Sun Dome at the University of South Florida. Valedictorian Corttney Penberthy, salutatorian Claire Elmblad and senior class president Audrina Bigos also spoke to the school's 425 Class of 2007 graduates. They offered up their versions of go get 'em.

Affect change.

Don't settle.

Make a difference.

But Walker's speech was a highlight.

He was born and raised in Wesley Chapel and was editor-in-chief of the Pawprints student newspaper and was a member of the National Honor Society. All of which is to say he's at least somewhat qualified to speak to what is a central question of civic life in such a fast-growing place where so much is so fluid and new.

What Walker said basically boiled down to this:

What do you want for Wesley Chapel? What do you want it to be?

And this isn't just about the teenagers who hang out at Starbucks, Sonic and the New Tampa Muvico. The idea applies also to anybody who heads south to work or shop.

Be imaginative, Walker said.

Be creative.

"And we are all adults now, " he said, "and soon we're going to face the cruel reality that we are going to have to do everything for ourselves. If you want something, step up and take it; if you want change, stand up and make it.

"I suppose what we all lack the most is inspiration. But the inspiration is right here. It's inside all of us. It just takes time, " he said, "to realize what you're meant to do here."

Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

Wesley Chapel High School

Graduates: 425

Just because why not: Salutatorian Claire Elmblad and her friends sometimes dress up in prom dresses and go bowling or have a picnic in the parking lot at the Super Target on Bruce B. Downs. Just because why not.

To Tally and beyond: Valedictorian Corttney Penberthy is going to Florida State and wants to be a U.S. ambassador.

Super smart: Wesley Chapel's summa cum laude grads: Elmblad, Penberthy, Ryan Stiftinger, Susan Thomson, Matthew Carver, Danniel Flores, Billie Jean Nguyen, Jason Ressler, Michelle Wyper, Paolina Pantcheva and Bernadette Ricard.