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Just one cap and gown expected at graduation

Richard Esposita will be the Five Oaks Learning Center's sole graduate at commencement on Thursday night.


Revised June 5, 2000

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 31, 2000

PINELLAS PARK -- Being the only graduate in the Five Oaks Learning Center doesn't bother Richard Esposita. He's just glad he's made it.

"It hasn't really hit me yet," said Esposita. "But I guarantee it will when I leave here."

Esposita, 18, will be graduating with cap and gown on Thursday evening at the Five Oaks Community Church, 7685 66th St N. As the only graduate this year -- last year there were two -- Esposita said he'll always remember the fundraising car wash and the day four years ago friends pushed him off a pier into the bay.

The second youngest of seven children, Esposita was born and grew up in Pinellas Park. He enrolled in the school at its inception seven years ago after attending First Baptist Christian School in Pinellas Park.

"The school is great. We get a lot of one-on-one attention and a lot of good Christian values, which helped me choose the direction I want to go in life," said Esposita.

He is one of 25 students in the non-denominational Christian school this year. The school specializes in junior and senior high school education with an emphasis on diagnosis and placement. Because of class size, curriculum is self-paced and relationships are close.

"He's one of the family," said Joyce Austin, school counselor. "There's a part of me that will really miss him but I am really proud of him."

"Richard is outgoing and very congenial," said Dr. Kent Austin, school administrator and pastor of the church. "His interest is in computers so we designed curriculum to include that, but his career will be in the Army."

Esposita is gifted with the ability to draw, but five years ago he began thinking about a career in the U.S. Army. Three weeks ago he enlisted and signed on for the $3,000 bonus as a paratrooper.

"My dad (Rick) said it's the best career I could possibly choose. But my mom (Janet) is scared. I only told her about my plans to jump out of airplanes two days ago," said Esposita.

Esposita leaves for nine weeks of basic training at Fort Knox on July 13. He will have a month's leave before being stationed at Fort Lee in Virginia where he will put his computer knowledge to work in logistical supplies. He hopes to become a pilot and career officer.

"You only go around this world once. You need to do what you want to be doing," said Betty Lilley, one of Esposita's teachers. "So many people don't. And so many people Richard's age don't know what it is they want to do. I respect him for that."

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