Nearly 400 proud Zephyrhills High School Class of 2023 graduates walked across the commencement stage at the Yuengling Center at USF today.
Whether the stage was used as the perfect place to land a back flip, or the ideal spot for a selfie or pushups, it was the culmination of years of dedication for the Class of 2023. It was also used a proud platform.
The stage was a place of congratulations where district officials, ZHS administrators and elementary school principals offered hugs and handshakes. It became the end of a chapter and the beginning to another.
For Marcell Tucker, the stage was the perfect place to land a parting back flip just before receiving his diploma from Principal Dr. Christina Stanley. Blake Yearby made good on a dare and dropped on the stage and did pushups before getting his diploma. Selfies were plenty as grads made sure they caught their historical moment on their phones.
Valedictorian Alex Gard confidently walked to the podium on the stage, bent down and pulled a large transgender flag from his pant leg and draped it over the front of the podium as he prepared to deliver his speech to his fellow classmates in the Class of 2023.
Gard, who finished at the top of his class, reminded his classmates that it doesn’t take much to change their life or the world.
“For our school, we are riddled with setbacks greater than those around us. But that is what sets us apart. That every day our shoulders run bruised with the baggage we hold from our lives, and even after we take off our bookbags, our shoulders still run sore. But we keep on moving, carrying more and more, breaking the glass ceilings imposed by others to box us in. But I know you. I know what you are capable of. It takes one choice, one moment to change your life entirely. One stand, to change the world.”
Class President Caitlyn Eudy’s collective message from the Class of 2023 focused on passion, independence and resilience.
“The grit and determination that got us here today will follow us past graduation,” Eudy said. “Throughout life, we will be met with small and seemingly unbearable challenges, especially when doing things that matter. However, by being here today we have already proved to ourselves that we can do hard things, and we will push on.
Salutatorian, Samantha Bailey acknowledged the role faith played in shaping her experiences and how the role it will play for all of them going forward.
“However, as we step into the next chapter of our lives, we will undoubtedly face challenges and uncertainties,” Bailey said. “It is in these moments that faith becomes a source of strength and courage.
“Graduation is not just a conclusion; it is a commencement—a beginning. As we embark on this new journey, let us strive to be beacons of light in a world that often seems consumed by darkness. Let us be known for our kindness, our humility, and our unwavering faith. Let us be agents of positive change, bringing hope and restoration to those around you.”