Palm Beach Central High School is preparing to graduate 691 seniors on Wednesday, May 18 at the South Florida Fairgrounds. The class will be led by Valedictorian Rushik Sakamuri and Salutatorian Billie Brightman.
Principal Darren Edgecomb said he was excited this year to see the entire student body return to campus after the previous year of online learning.
“Most of the time, we had only about 30 percent of the population on campus,” Edgecomb told the Town-Crier. “It was certainly a hybrid format. We had teachers in isolation, who didn’t interact and see other people very often. That was even more so with seniors last year. You really didn’t have that high school culture where your seniors are your leaders and your role models. It didn’t have the same feel cultural-wise and extracurricular-wise.”
Edgecomb said the hybrid environment was especially tough on the teachers.
“You’d have five or six kids in class and 20 to 25 kids on the computer, so it was really tough trying to give equal attention and focus on both groups,” he said.
Yet this year, Palm Beach Central was blessed with a strong senior class ready to complete their journey.
“We just had a senior assembly for the 691 seniors, so that was really exciting,” Edgecomb said. “It was our first time really getting together as a group physically. You could feel the energy in the room. I shared very personal thoughts of what I was feeling and looking out there in their faces and being excited about having a normal school year being punctuated with a normal graduation.”
The return of senior year events has also been exciting. “A couple of weeks ago, we did Grad Bash,” he said. “We did an overnight trip to Orlando’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios.”
The prom is coming up April 30 at the Kravis Center. On April 22, the school will hold its AICE recognition night, honoring students who earned that special degree program through the University of Cambridge.
“We have a banquet tonight [April 20] to recognize seniors in one of our math honor societies, and we have a drama banquet the next night, and a National Honor Society induction next week, so the calendar is quite filled with activities,” Edgecomb said. “This is a part of the activities that culminate around graduation, and even beyond graduation with Project Graduation, the all-night party that the parents put on.”
He noted that many students in the Class of 2022 are going to prestigious schools and have solid career plans after that.
“Me, one of the assistant principals and a guidance counselor took the top seven kids and the student government president to a scholastic achievement dinner at The Breakers a couple of weeks ago,” Edgecomb recalled. “Having a dinner at a five-star hotel with the top seven kids in the graduating class of Palm Beach County was a pretty unique group.”
Valedictorian Rushik Sakamuri’s GPA sits at 3.9855 with an HPA 5.3895. He has been accepted to the University of Florida, where he plans to study economics.
In the past year, he was president of the school’s chess club and treasurer of the school’s Mu Alpha Theta math honor society. He has also been a member of the National Honor Society. Sakamuri did community service hours in math tutoring and was a math tutor through a program called Embolden Tutoring.
He said this year was a huge transition after online courses the previous year.
“Now you have to wake up every morning, get ready for school, wake up early, it was a big transition,” Sakamuri said. “It was really different because you could track more with your teachers and your classmates. I feel like we’re more eager to learn in person rather than virtual.”
He urged his fellow graduates to aim for the highest standards and break those no one has broke — and at the same time enjoy life and have fun.
Salutatorian Billie Brightman will finish with a GPA of 3.97 and an HPA of 5.41. She plans to attend the University of Miami to study broadcast journalism.
“For a long time, I wanted to study marine biology or marine science, but then I stayed home through the pandemic, and I always had the news on in the background,” she said. “I just loved watching it, and I loved the idea of being on camera and being a person that people can trust to deliver them all the facts.”
Brightman said the inspiration stems from her experience in middle school as a news broadcaster. “I just loved doing that,” she said.
Brightman has been vice president of the National Honor Society and participated in volunteer work both in school and out of school.
“One of our big events was the Dance Marathon partnered with the University of Florida,” Brightman said. “Over the last three years, we have managed to raise more than $100,000. That was the highlight.”
A member of Rho Kappa, the school’s social studies honor society, she earned her AICE diploma of distinction.
She said being back in class this year with fellow students and teachers was a welcome experience. “I like to have connections with my teachers beyond just learning,” Brightman said. “I want them to know who I am and what my learning style is and get a deeper understanding of whatever subject it is. Being in person, it was so much easier to make those connections.”
She urged her fellow classmates to keep trying new things and not forget where they came from.
“You always have to have some fun and childish adventures mixed in with your professional studies,” Brightman said. “You’ve got to keep smiling and keep moving forward no matter what happens.”