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Amelia Islander

Pirates for Life

May 20, 2015 02:00PM
“It’s true that it takes a village to raise a child, and there is no better village than Amelia Island,” smiles Rita Kane, mother of not one child, but three, who will graduate from Fernandina Beach High School (FBHS) this spring. The Kane family moved to the island just before kindergarten and was overwhelmed with friendship and kindness, and it’s just these sentiments that seniors say define Class of 2015!

There’s no better example of this than Emma Venerdi, a cheerleader, who will miss gathering and laughing with friends at “senior wall” each morning. A special detail about this typical teen is that she has Down syndrome. “Emma participated in cheerleading, student government, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Nassau Leadership, and Link Crew, and the students of FBHS treated her as ‘one of the group.’ She loved Spirit Week and her peers knew it, including her when it would have been easy to overlook her. These are the memories we cherish,” explains her mom, Lori.

Emma Venerdi Photo courtesy of Lori Venerdi

Rita’s daughter, Mallory, said FBHS is special to her because that is where she met her buddy, Emma, through the organization Best Buddies, which connects students with disabilities with their peers for friendship. “We have formed a tight bond that will last a lifetime,” she shares. “I am going to miss the vibe and closeness that everyone shares here when I go to Auburn University to study nursing sciences this fall.”

One of Mallory’s favorite memories was when she and her sister, Mackenzie, escorted their brother, Matt, on the homecoming court. The trio is the first set of triplets to navigate through Nassau County schools all the way to graduation! Mackenzie and Matt agree the class is like a big family, where everyone looks out for one another. Mackenzie will attend Florida Atlantic University to study neuroscience, while Matt takes pride in his baseball and academic scholarships from Lynchburg College in Virginia.

The connectedness of the Pirates among athletes is reiterated student after student. “My most cherished memories of high school are the long nights spent with my teammates at soccer games and track meets,” says Michael Combs, who is headed to Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He will study political science and play soccer and ultimate frisbee for the Rhodes Lynx. “Some of the best times came from simple bus rides and fast food stops on the tedious journey home.” The Class of 2015 boasts amazing athletic talent, as evidenced by the number of scholar-athletes who will play baseball, basketball, cheerleading, golf, soccer, and volleyball, confirms FBHS Guidance Counselor Sarah Coombs.

“The Class of 2015 is very diverse, with many all-around outstanding students,” boasts Sarah. “We have a National Merit Finalist headed to Yale, and a National Merit Commended student graduating from high school with an Associate Degree from Florida State College Jacksonville.  Students will be attending colleges throughout the country, from the University of San Francisco to the University of Virginia.”

Michael and Megan Combs

The seniors are quick to recognize that their academic success was impossible without the fine faculty at FBHS. “This school is special in its dedication to the intellectual growth and development of its students,” says senior Megan Combs, twin sister of Michael. “I’ve had so many wonderful teachers who inspired me to learn and participate in the school community.” Megan will study Art History and Management at the University of San Francisco in the heart of the city.

“The teachers work tirelessly for their students, and the Class of 2015 is so much better for it,” confirms Katie Combs, Megan and Michael’s mom. And so they are, a class filled with aspiring auto mechanics, air traffic controllers, artists, engineers, and students enlisting in the United States Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy, Marines, and the Florida Air National Guard.

All of this year’s graduating Pirates agree that it’s been a great four years, and they feel well prepared for life beyond FBHS. As they travel on to new adventures, they will forever carry in their hearts the friendships and many kindnesses they experienced as members of the accomplished Class of 2015!