Photography by Alex Anton
This past weekend was one packed full of triumph and jubilee for many residents of Hernando County. The first day of summer break for most of the school-age children in the area and it also signified the beginning of the high school graduation rush.
Five Hernando County public schools graduated their senior classes over the span of three days (from Thursday to Saturday) and graduates were presented with a variety of gifts. From flowers to money envelopes, to gift subscriptions to Amazon Prime, grads were blessed with many traditional and non-traditional gifts which would help to propel them on their way to whatever life may have in store. One student from Hernando High School, however, received what may be the best graduation present a young adult can receive. The best part? It came from a complete stranger.
Once every student in the Hernando High Class of 2019 was seated in the Sanctuary of Grace World Outreach Church; after the school administrators and school board members had been introduced; subsequent to the well-received and extremely inspirational address given by the class valedictorian (Thamid Ahmed), one special agenda item had to be addressed before the students walked the stage and received their diplomas.
Tammy Brinker, the head of the Hernando County Education Foundation (HCEF), was asked to come up to the podium. Mrs. Brinker, joined by Mr. Stephen Manley, had the awesome responsibility of announcing the winner of HCEF’s “Focus on the Future: Strive to Drive Giveaway” which was officially announced in November.
The idea for the giveaway, as explained by Mrs. Brinker, was “formed due to an amazing family that wanted to inspire students to stay in school and graduate through making attendance and education a priority.” HCEF launched the Focus on the Future program giveaway in November by first announcing the qualifications. In order to be in the running, students had to graduate with a minimum of a 2.5 Grade Point Average, have no absences throughout their senior year, never have been marked tardy and have no record of disciplinary actions. According to Mrs. Leechelle Booker, Hernando High School’s principal, eleven students were in the running on the night of the announcement.
A 2019 Ford Fiesta SE Hatchback. In addition to this amazing prize, the donor added an interior and exterior protection package, an oil change, car wash supplies and a $100 gift card for gas.
Before drawing the name of the winner, the donor had a few words for the graduating class. Mr. Manley, a Hernando County resident since July of 2018, expressed to the students: “You guys have really accomplished something special.” On average, 12% percent of high school seniors in Florida never make it to graduation day. He spoke of his inspiration for the drawing and told the class of 2019: “Whether your future holds college, military, vocational education or the workforce… my goal is to give you a little bit of an advantage in the future.” His last words to the student body before announcing the winner spoke of maintaining humility and never forgetting those less fortunate.
This generous act of charity set the stage for an ongoing tradition which Mr. Manley hopes to perpetuate not only with Hernando County High but with every high school in the Hernando County School District: “We will do this from now on, this is not a one-year thing… Beginning next year, we will do it for every high school in Hernando County.”
The next step was for Mr. Manley to draw the winning name from a raffle basket which stood next to the podium. A hush fell over the entire audience as Mr. Manley reached into the bucket and announced Corbin Beller as the winner of the prize.
Corbin seemed both elated and slightly embarrassed as he was showered with applause from everyone in attendance.
After the ceremony, Corbin, surrounded by his family, met with Mrs. Brinker and Mr. Manley to receive the keys to his brand-new car. A man of few words, Corbin took a minute from his celebrations to speak to me about his plans for his future. One of those plans is to attend culinary school in Tampa. He previously had no idea how he was going to be able to make that happen as he did not have any means of transportation, but this changed all of that. Corbin has always been a hardworking student. His mother remembered times when Corbin was not feeling great and was entitled to stay home but Corbin refused. He is and has always been, dedicated to his education and his hard work and his perseverance paid off.
Corbin has one main hurdle to clear before he can gain full possession of the car. He’ll need to acquire his drivers’ license.