Graduates from the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind were told to start packing their bags for the last time.
But the final voyage entails bringing more than suitcases, said Dr. Tuck Tinsley III, the retired president of American Printing House for the Blind and a guest speaker at Friday evening’s commencement ceremony.
“Over the years, you’ve packed your bags numerous times. You packed them to go home for the weekends, you’ve packed them for summer vacation,” Tinsley said. “But this time, when you pack your bags, it will be very different.”
Tinsley told seniors to pack good memories, confidence, work ethic, humor and a positive attitude.
“Because what you take with you will prepare you for the journey ahead,” Tinsley said.
FSDB is one of 10 schools in the country that specializes in dual deaf and blind education. A total of 42 students from the deaf department and 28 students from the blind department concluded their high school journey as the class of 2016.
“With 100 percent confidence, I can say to you seniors that you’ve attended the best deaf and blind school in the country,” Tinsley said. “Don’t take it for granted.”
Many of the students have big plans for their future, including Gracie DeLong, the blind department valedictorian. DeLong maintained a weighted GPA of 4.2 and is headed for Florida State University to study biomedical engineering.
DeLong said she’s grown academically and emotionally during her high school years, crediting supportive faculty and friends.
She said finding strength to overcome obstacles was a challenge she faced over the years. Now, she said she’s comfortable and prepared for life beyond FSDB. She told her fellow classmates to pursue their dreams with confidence and determination.
“I would like to encourage everyone to take initiative. Believe in yourself,” DeLong said. “It doesn’t matter if others don’t believe in you. At the end of the day, it’s up to you.”
Irma Agic, the deaf department valedictorian, said she has changed for the better throughout her years at FSDB.
“I’m surprised at my own growth,” she said.
Agic transferred to FSDB in seventh grade and practiced recreational art. It wasn’t long before teachers and friends noticed her eye for design and encouraged her to join various art programs. There were many opportunities here for the young artist, who now plans to attend the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and study graphic design.
“I have worked hard. We have worked hard. We have all struggled and endeavored through the challenges of learning,” Agic said. “We should continue to grow.”
From here forward, graduates are responsible for the direction their lives go, said Jean Prickett, FSDB’s president.
But Prickett said she is confident the class of 2016 is ready to pack their bags a final time and embrace the future.
“For many years, other people made decisions for you. All of us worked hard to give you tools for this day,” Prickett said. “Now it’s your turn to make the decisions, but every one of you has special qualities for success.”