As the setting sun poked its rays through the spaces in the trees outside of the Broward Theatre for the Performing Arts, graduates adorned in satin gowns posed for endless amounts of family photos. Parents, grandparents, and siblings alike came in their best attire for this iconic event. Before they knew it, it was 6 p.m. and time for the graduates to be ushered backstage. As they waited to be ushered into the theatre, the seniors stood backstage taking selfies, talking with old teachers, and hugging some of their friends for the last time.
“My high school career has been filled with a lot of assignments and procrastination. It feels good to hang out with my friends one last time before we all disperse and go our separate ways. Graduation however is just the beginning; it is the start of my adult life. I am turning eighteen, going to college, getting a job, and becoming an independent man,” says Pablo Grijalva.
Before the graduates came out to their seats at the foot of the stage, the PPCHS Band, under the direction of Mr. Daugherty, began playing Activity March while the friends and family members took their seats. Graduate conductors, fully dressed in their caps, gowns, and cords, took their place in front of their fellow band members for the very last time. Diamond Cunningham, Hannah Rector, Lauren Olster, Hope McNally, Gabby Jesserun, and Tony London picked up the baton and led the band through beautiful compositions. A loud roar of applause and chanting replaced any side conversations as the PPCHS Class of 2014 graduates strutted down the side aisles in their caps and gowns. Coming from both ends of the theatre, the graduates crisscrossed through the rows as their friends and family waved, cheered, and took pictures. Once everyone took their seats, the ceremony began.
After an introduction from Ms. Peacock, Mrs. Tabie welcomed the distinguished guests sitting on the stage including Mayor Ortis, Vice Mayor Schwartz, Commissioners Siple, Castillo, and Schechter, City Manager Charles F, Dodge, and members of the PPCHS Administration. Mrs. Tabie then called graduate Melissa Rueda to the stage who led the theatre in the recitation of the National Anthem.
As everyone sat down, Principal Bayer took the stage. Before Bayer began his speech, like the popular song, he quoted, “But first, let me take a selfie”. He then proceeded to pull out his iPad and take a selfie wherein he was the focus and the graduating class was behind him. Mr. Bayer then assigned a final, somewhat unusual homework assignment to the Class of 2014. He asked everyone to take out their phones and take a graduation selfie, and then post their selfie using the hashtag #ppchsworldrecordselfie. He promised that if everyone did this, he would call up Guinness and see if they could make it as most simultaneous selfies taken in one location.. But Mr. Bayer wasn’t done yet; he took on the persona of this year’s Oscar hostess, Ellen DeGeneres. Bayer began to call out members of the Class of 2014 as if they were at an award show. Among other students called, he said that this was the first event that Andrew Iglesias and Alden Diaz were not hosting and expressed his astonishment at how voluminous Victoria Alvarez’s hair was. In all seriousness, Mr. Bayer ended his speech with warm and healthy wishes to all of his graduates and left the stage open to the PPCHS Chorus comprised solely of graduates.
The Choir performed their Graduation Medley with solos describing each of the four years of high school. Seniors Tatiana Bustamante and Hannah Rector remained on stage as their peers took their seats; the duet sang a harmonic version of the song For Good from the Broadway play Wicked. When they returned back to their seats, Mayor Frank C. Ortis took to the podium and spoke to the students. He recognized his granddaughter, who was graduating that night and spoke to the students about the real world they would be heading into.
Bustamante said, “When I was eight years old, I saw my first play at the Broward Theatre for Performing Arts, which was Wicked. This was a turning point for me because this was when I decided that I wanted to study musical theatre. I was so inspired and being able to sing a song from Wicked on that same stage made everything come full circle on graduation day.”
Before Nicole Batista, Francesca Levy, and Aya Eltantawy made their speeches, Mr. Bayer took the time out to recognized those students who graduated with honors. He first had those ten students who graduated with perfect attendance for all four years stand up. Then, he called those graduates who earned the silver cord, a recognition for those who earned at least 250 hours, to stand. After them, came the seniors who received Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum, Laude, and Cum Laude honors. As all the Cum Laude graduates stood in front of their friends and family, Bayer invited all the students who received the gold cord, a recognition for those who maintained at least a 3.6 GPA, to stand with them. By the time every party was asked to stand up, most of the Class of 2014 was on it’s feet.
As everyone sat back down, Bayer took to the podium once again to start off the student speakers. He announced that each student picked their most memorable teacher to introduce them. Nicole Batista, class president and the first speaker, choose Mrs. Diaz to introduce her. As class sponsor, Diaz got the chance to know Batista for four years. Throughout her intro, Diaz emphasized Batista’s leadership skills in both SGA and as a class officer. She commended Batista for her high GPA and dedication to raising money for her class. With a wide smile, Mrs. Diaz congratulated Batista on her success and welcomed her to the podium.
When Nicole Batista took the mic, she began to talk about her grandmother. She described how her grandmother was an expert puzzle maker, spending her time creating masterpieces from 500 or more separate little pieces. Batista decided to take some key advice she learned from her grandmother’s puzzling and share them with the graduating class. With tips like “move through the puzzle section by section”, “find the corner pieces first”, and “…”, Batista was able to tie in the school and the students into her puzzle. The corner pieces became sports captains who held their teams together like soccer captain, Mya Goodman. Obvious and standout pieces of the puzzle became outspoken students like Andy Iglesias who were easy to find and connect together. Batista even connected herself as a triplet into the speech, calling her and her two brothers “…pieces in the box that came connected together.” As Batista finished off her speech on the Pembroke Pines Charter section of the puzzle, the other graduates gave her a standing ovation for her speech.
Batista took her seat on the stage, and after her Mrs.Vivolo came to introduce the first Jaguar Pride speaker, Francesca Levy. Vivolo gushed about Levy throughout her entire speech. Vivolo portrayed Levy’s amazing determination through her reaction to challenges and her outlook on life. She also highlighted Levy’s incredibly high GPA and her record-setting AP Calculus score. With every word, Vivolo beamed at Levy and seemed proud to be the one to introduce her to speak. After a heartfelt hug between the two, Levy began to speak.
Francesca Levy decided to speak about change. She emphasized that although everyone would be going their separate ways, the Class of 2014 was still one big, happy Charter family. Levy personalized her speech by quoting her fellow classmates on their fears, goals, and Charter favorites. Francesca concluded by stating that she was confident that the Class of 2014 would move on to accomplish great things. With this, she walked back to her designated seat on stage and made way for the next announcer.
Debate teacher Mrs. Schwab introduced the last Jaguar Pride Speaker, Aya Eltantawy. In her introduction, Schwab described Eltantawy as an unconventional leader. She depicted Eltantawy as someone who was quiet and reserved in class, but who stood-out and beamed when she was debating. She also gave anecdotes on how Eltantawy’s eloquent speeches caused fear in some of the most seasoned debaters, and drove them to search for her speeches in order to get a leg up on her, but even that didn’t work. After introducing Eltantawy as an incredible speaker, the two hugged, and Eltantawy took the mic.
Aya Eltantawy began her speech with an anecdote about herself. She told the story about when she decided to start wearing a hijab in 6th grade. When she started experiencing hatred and exclusion because of her headgear, Eltantawy said that she made the veil an excuse for her actions and a way to hide and stay hidden. Eltantawy believed that every action she made shaped the world’s view of Muslims, and as such, she choose her words and her actions carefully. As she entered high school, Eltantawy said she realized that she couldn’t hide behind the hijab or use it as an excuse for her actions. She began to speak up and voice her opinions, no matter how unpopular they were. With this, Eltantawy urged her class to stop hiding behind their figurative hijabs. She demanded that whatever they may be whether race, gender, or sexuality, they stand up and take control over their actions. As Eltantawy finished her speech, the class stood up once more and cheered for their speaker. But then, there was more excitement in the air as the presentation of the diplomas was about to begin.
The graduates rose from their seats in an orderly fashion and made their way on stage as their name was called. Each student’s’ personality shone through as they proudly and confidently walked across the stage. Philippe Constant took a selfie with Mr. Bayer, Alden Diaz pulled Mr. Bayer into a giant bear hug, Jeremy Bermudez did the worm, Laura Smith did the popular “Nae-Nae” dance as she walked on stage, Catalina Villegas was greeted by a horn to cheer for her, and Daniel Zapata strolled across the stage with an impenetrable spirit as the last senior to walk across the stage for the Class of 2014. As Zapata shook hands with the city officials, all the senior rose from their chairs and began to clap. In all the chaos, a beach ball was thrown into the air and a fit of screaming and cheering shook the theatre walls.
“The road to graduation was tough,” says graduate Philippe Constant. “You lose track of your goals sometimes, but there are good teachers here who will get you back on track. Being here is, to me, a basic accomplishment. It’s the first real thing in your life that you really accomplish. It’s a stepping stone to something larger, and I’m excited about what’s to come.”
Mayor Ortis took the stage to announce what every person in that auditorium had been waiting for–the certification that every student in that room earned their diploma and is recognized as a graduate by the City of Pembroke Pines. The now official PPCHS graduating Class of 2014 moved their tassels to the left side of their caps; their caps and the beach ball were airborne. Graduates turned to face their friends and family who were frantically snapping pictures and crying out to them. Wide smiles were plastered on each of the graduates faces as they left the theatre.
LaShae Palmer said, “The road to any goal in life will always be tough. In a Pines Charter school, you’re going to graduate; if you do what you need to do and take the help from everyone working by your side, it is almost impossible not to graduate. No matter how much I loved junior year for all the parties, it is time to leave behind our old lives and start something new.”
The pride and joy was eminent on every graduate’s face; their sleepless nights and incessant exams had finally paid off. Every graduate glided across the stage with the utmost confidence, for it was about time they walked across the stage with their diploma in hand. But as every rising adult in the graduating Class of 2014 is aware, this is only the beginning. They have yet to support a household, pay for schooling, or manage their own bank account. The road to graduation was one with rough patches, preparing students for the life that was yet to come. There will only be more speed bumps that slow one down or obstruct one’s view of the goal ahead; however, the Class of 2014 is all suited up and ready to dive into a larger sea.
Reported by: Melissa PIERCE and Looghermine CLAUDE
STUDENT LIFE EDITOR AND NEWS/LIFESTYLE EDITOR
Photo by: Peter DOURVETAKIS