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River Ridge students revel in their future, success as a class


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001

NEW PORT RICHEY -- Sandra Zufall has gotten used to being last over the years. Her last name always had her at the end of the line for recess or last in line for lunch. On Friday night, she was last in line to graduate.

But that's okay, she said. It only meant that she would get the loudest round of applause.

By the time Zufall got her diploma, 390 other seniors already had walked across the stage at River Ridge High School. It took an hour and 10 minutes to hand out all the diplomas. It was the largest graduating class ever at the 10-year-old school.

And, according to Principal Tammy Rabon, it also ranks as one of the best: two valedictorians (GPAs: 4.476); four National Merit Scholars; two students appointed to U.S. military academies; and a collective $2.7-million in college scholarships, a figure guidance counselor Monica Obesso called "unbelieveable."

"I stand here tonight confident that we have done our job," Rabon told the graduates. "I've seen the results of the brainpower of the Class of 2001. . . . You may be leaving us tonight, but we will always be here for you."

And what commencement would be complete without the speeches?

Co-valedictorian Jessica McCarrick said she thought her classmates' futures resembled a busy highway, with off ramps, stop lights and merging traffic.

"Anyone can be chauffeured through life," she said. "Life is too short to worry about when you'll get there. As long as you have enough gasoline and patience, you will get there."

The class' other valedictorian, Ryan O'Leary, said he didn't want to hear people grumbling about their lot in life or how others treat them. Life is what you make it, he said, urging his fellow graduates to leave the world a better place than they came into it.

"If you want to find more love in the world, create more love in your heart," he said.

As the ceremony ended, the old River Ridge school bell greeted the graduates with a peal. Whoops and hollers soon drowned out the clanging as the Class of 2001 filed out of the gymnasium one last time.

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