FLORIDA-The pilgrimage started mid-morning. For the 108th S.S. Seward Institute commencement exercises last Saturday, they flocked to the big, white tent and portable stage from tiny dots on the map of the Florida School District. From quaint name places like Round Hill, Big Island, Glenmere Homesites, Snufftown and Spanktown, members of the class of 2005 and their families and friends trekked to the "Great Lawn" of the high school. They were joined by others from places that were open fields, farms and orchards when Samuel S. Seward established his original institute in 1848 - CedarCrest, Village Park, Stoney Creek, Sunrise Ridge. To say that Seward Institute remains the heart and soul of the small village of Florida and its outlying reaches is a fairly obvious truth. There were 55 seniors in the Class of 2005. There have been larger classes; there have been smaller ones. Mina Jayne and Gertrude Brown were the only graduates in 1896 when the institute re-opened as a public school. It was a cinch to pick out the valedictorian and the salutatorian then (records don't indicate which was which). In a more competitive situation, highest honors went to Marissa Oakley with a GPA of 96.83, while Kristin Byrnes was right behind. The program was a long, but interesting one. Following introductory remarks by high school principal Clement S. Ceccarelli, class president Ellen Dagele led the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem. Salutatorian Kristin Brynes, who will be attending SUNY Orange, majoring in biology, spoke of the importance of taking chances and meeting challenges head on. She concluded with her own personal theory: "We can do it all if we don't let fear get in the way." State Assemblywoman Annie Rabbit spoke briefly, revealing the pleasure she got as she drove into the village and the school grounds. "This is what it should be," she remarked as she congratulated the soon-to-be graduates. The presentation of awards was a mixture of old and new with Ceccarelli and assistant principal Susan Moore moving the program along briskly. The Walter R. Paul scholarship in honor of the long-time math teacher and high school principal was presented by Elmeda Shuback to Justina Moodie. Another long-time award was the Stanley F. Nowick Award presented by his best friend Steve Pitre. Two scholarships were presented in honor of beloved, former music teacher, the late Ralph Pomponio. Those were awarded by Merrette Rentmeester to MaryLee Shorr and Lauren Lewis. James L. Sosler, president of the Seward Alumni Association presented several awards, one of which was the Leona B. Harter Spartan Spirit Award to Amanda Covetskie. At the recent Alumni Association reunion, two $1,000 scholarships were announced. They were presented by Sosler at the Commencement to Lauren Lewis and Ruben Ramos. Former Seward math teacher Thomas Coughlin, representing the Knights of Columbus, presented two awards for citizenship. They went to Erin Davis and Erik Krebs. The Elisabeth Roe (Class of 1922) Creative Writing Award was given to Davis. PattiLynn Faliski Conard (Class of 63) has been awarding a $1,000 nursing scholarship for many years. This year the winner was Juliana Pagan. One of the appreciative awards went to Jacqueline Mosca - a $3,000 scholarship presented by the Avon Corp. Marissa Oakley's valedictory was a combination of humor, recollection and a brief glimpse into the future. From her high school years she recalled the little quirks of some of her teachers. This brought much laughter from her classmates who recognized those quirks but never revealed them in public. Apparently, valedictorians have earned the privilege to do that. With the sun beating down, the graduates were presented to the board of education and received those long-awaited diplomas. Then they marched off the stage into the waiting arms of their families and well-wishers. By now the big white tent has been taken down, the stage has been dismantled, the 700 chairs have been stacked and carted away, and the flowers and decorative greenery have been returned to Jan Jansen's nursery. And the 55 young men and women of the Class of 2005 have started their own journeys. May the road be a smooth one. The list of graduates starts on page 22. For more photos, please log onto www.warwickadvertiser.com.