As 80 graduates of Florida Keys Community College prepare to walk down the aisle and receive their diplomas this evening at Tennessee Williams Theatre, there will be 80 personal stories of student success on display.
One of those stories will belong to Associate of Arts degree recipient Cameron Henry, 20, who has spent the past two years availing himself of all the college has to offer in the classrooms and library -- and out on the water.
"I think it's a magnificent place," Henry said of FKCC. "And I did take advantage of a lot of scholarship and learning opportunities that my instructors made me aware of. It's like they say, 'Start here, go anywhere.' They really do give you the tools to do that."
Henry was born in Rhode Island to a Navy family, and moved frequently as a result. As a teenager, he lived in Rota, Spain, and played on the only high school baseball team in that country.
The sluggers faced off against their counterparts from other U.S. bases in Europe, in Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.
"They don't really play baseball that much in Spain," Henry said. "So the only teams we could play were from the other bases. We played on the road a lot."
It was during one of those trips to Germany that Henry was inspired by a business idea that has driven his ambitions ever since: indoor trampoline parks, which he plans to emulate stateside with his father, as soon as he graduates from the University of Central Florida with the Master of Business Administration degree he plans to obtain.
Interestingly, during the years he lived in Spain, Henry found it difficult to pick up Spanish.
"I wanted to learn, but the minute people figured out I was an American, they only wanted to speak English with me," Henry said with a chuckle. "They all wanted help learning to speak our language."
Three years ago Henry's family moved to Key West, and the teen enrolled at Key West High School -- where he also joined the Conchs baseball team -- for his senior year.
At FKCC, Henry has embraced many of the learning opportunities offered.
He's been a member of the Student Government Association, Phi Theta Kappa (an international honor society for two-year colleges), the Book Club, and most importantly, the Scuba Club.
"The Scuba Club was awesome," Henry said. "Although I didn't get to do as many dives as I hoped, it's always nice to get into the water, away from schoolwork, to relax."
As a member of that outfit, Henry was thrilled to be able to dive on Key West's most famous new shipwreck, the USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.
"We did two night dives on the Vandenberg," Henry said. "On one dive last semester, we went down 100 feet, into the bridge, where a barracuda started smacking us in the face, because we spooked it. It was pretty intense."
The club also dove on a small sunken boat, as well as an old "Maxi Taxi," in the FKCC lagoon, but for Henry the highlight of his campus dives was becoming a certified rescue diver.
"That was a great course," Henry said. "It's definitely worth taking."
During his spare time, Henry jumped at the chance to serve as a Student Ambassador, welcoming visitors to the campus, and providing tours and assisting new students with the orientation process.
"It's a $1,200 per semester scholarship," Henry said. "And you can use it for any school expense, or if you've already paid all your fees and for your books, they'll just give you cash. Mostly we were giving high school kids tours of the campus and dorms and cafe, and relating to them the great experience we've had at FKCC."
Henry also signed up for the library work-study program, a form of federal student aid.
"You make $10.21 per hour, working 10 or 20 hours per week," he said. "It's great because they work 100 percent around your class schedule. And when you're not working, they let you study and do your homework. You can get a lot of studying done while working and making cash money."
The long hours spent at the library have paid off for Henry, who has maintained a 3.5 GPA and was named to the All-Florida Academic Team, comprising the best and brightest students in Florida's 28 community colleges. He's also signed up to become the first member of the new FKCC Alumni Association.
"I'm going to be a big part of getting older graduates to join the alumni," Henry said. "I'm very grateful that my teachers pointed me in the right direction to take part in the scholarship opportunities. For example, I had no idea about the Student Ambassador program or the work-study at the library until my teacher told me about it, and it's not just me. They really do try to help out everybody so that everyone gets a fair chance to succeed."
College President Jonathan Gueverra this year had a chance to get to know Henry both as a student and as a person on a recent road trip to Central Florida.
"Cameron is a very good student, and beyond what we did in the classroom, I had a chance to spend some time with him when we traveled to Daytona for the All Academic State Team," Gueverra said. "He was the only one from FKCC to make that group, which is quite a distinction. He's really quite the scholar. I enjoyed having him as a student, as he is very inquisitive, always a delight. I would often ask the students what they got out of the day's lecture, and one time he answered 'people first.' I don't think that he'll ever lose sight of that, wherever he ends up."
Henry said that while he'll miss the instructors and friends he's met at the college, he expects to run into them again.
"The University of Central Florida is landlocked, but they do have a dive club just like FKCC, so I'll be joining that," Henry said. "And they do come down to the Keys, so I'll have to show them around. And I'll definitely be heading by FKCC to say hello to my old teachers and bosses whenever I'm diving the Vandy."