PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The School District of Palm Beach County has officially kicked off graduation season for the class of 2023.
Ceremonies at the South Florida Fairgrounds Expo Center began on Monday and will continue through May 25.
More than 10,000 students will walk across the stage for 32 high school and academy graduations.
The class of 2023 started high school in 2020, meaning they were in the middle of their freshman year when the COVID-19 pandemic began and changed everything.
While the traditional pomp and circumstance started the ceremony for Wellington Community High School on Monday afternoon, the road these students took to get here was anything but traditional.
Reminders of what these students overcame to get to graduation day were woven through the ceremony.
It was said best by salutatorian Victoria Loredan, who will attend the University of Florida next year.
"We had a unique start to our high school career," Loredan said as she began her speech on stage. "Who would have thought on March 13, 2020, our lives would change forever? Typically we would end the year in celebration, surviving our first year of high school. Instead, we were behind screens, surviving a pandemic that would take the lives of thousands."
Superintendent Mike Burke echoed those sentiments of perseverance as he spoke to the Wellington High School class of 2023.
"You earned this achievement as a result of hard work, dedication and perseverance, and that is the recipe for success. We all believe in you and the most important thing is you believe in yourself," Burke said. "You were freshmen in March of 2020 when the whole world nearly shut down, and we had to switch to less-than-ideal virtual learning, and you guys have persevered and made it through all that. And when we came back to school in person, you guys came roaring back with a renewed sense of school spirit and community, and hopefully, you've really forged some great friendships through what were some trying times and now are in much better times."
Graduate Zachary Zigander was the last one to cross the stage.
"I worked hard to get to this moment, so it feels good," Zigander said.
Zigander was glad to cross the stage with his childhood friend, Trevor Bell.
"That experience, you will never feel again, that sense of pride and happiness, nothing will compare to it again," Bell said.
"It was so hard. Online learning was a challenge, but it made our class stronger as a whole," fellow graduate Daniella Vaccari said. "Because when we came back, we were all united because we knew we hadn't been together for two years. I was able to grow as a person a lot, which will help me in college."
Click here to see the full graduation schedule for the School District of Palm Beach County and watch the ceremonies online.