PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Seniors at Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach graduated Friday, marking an end to their impressive high school career, exactly one week after a chaotic and deadly police-involved shooting on campus.
During Friday’s emotional ceremony, Principal Blake Bennett praised Dreyfoos teachers, staff members, and counselors for their tireless dedication to students, especially during the tense law enforcement incident on May 13.
“Last Friday, your love for your students kept every single Dreyfoos student safe, and we commend and thank you for your truly heroic actions,” Bennett said.
Watch principal’s speech in the video player below:
Dreyfoos School of the Arts principal delivers graduation speech
SPECIAL COVERAGE: Education
The West Palm Beach Police Department said former Dreyfoos student Roman Phelps, 33, drove a van through a locked entrance on campus last Friday, then violently attacked an officer in the school’s auditorium, forcing that officer to shoot and kill Phelps.
Friends said Phelps was a former theater student at Dreyfoos School of the Arts but suffered from mental illness and wasn’t given the help he needed.
“We as a society and human beings need to do a better job of identifying and providing mental health support and services,” Bennett said at Friday’s graduation ceremony. “We all need to work better and together to make our world a better place for everyone.
Students returned to Dreyfoos on Monday to an increased law enforcement presence and extra mental health counselors on hand.
Dreyfoos parents have shown their support for the West Palm Beach Police Department over the last week by sharing heartfelt messages and delivering pizza and dessert to officers.
“We appreciate your support and will always be there to protect our schools and children,” the police department posted on Facebook Thursday.
During Friday’s graduation ceremony at the Expo Center at the South Florida Fairgrounds, Bennett praised Dreyfoos students for overcoming the mental, emotional, and academic setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This senior class, you made it happen and came in with a vengeance,” Bennett said. “You breathed life into Dreyfoos again. You had to make up for what the class of 2020 and 2021 missed. And boy, did you do that!”
The “Dreyfoos magic” was on full display Friday with musical performances by students and a focus on achievements in the arts.
“It is our quirks that drive our success. We’re taught since day one to communicate in our individual art forms,” said salutatorian Miles Wang, who’s set to attend Harvard University. “That was through grooving to jazz, performing musicals, or painting masterpieces.”
The celebration and magic were just what these students needed.
“With everything that has happened over the past year and also the incident that happened at our school last Friday, it’s just been very hectic,” said student Alliana Lipesky. “And I’m glad everyone had a great end of the year.”
Hugs, smiles, and cheers spilled out of the Expo Center as parents and graduates celebrated all they accomplished.
“Super, super, super excited. Super proud,” said parent Jane Garcia Deale.
And all they have to look forward to.
“I’m going to miss everyone here, but it’s time. It’s finally time,” Lipesky said.
Superintendent Mike Burke of the School District of Palm Beach County stressed to the hundreds of graduating seniors the values of setting high goals, working hard, and investing in your future, both educationally and financially.
“The key is getting out of the starting blocks,” Burke said. “Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Just start somewhere, and one opportunity will likely lead to the next.”
Bennett said 100% of seniors graduated on Friday, making Dreyfoos one of the only Palm Beach County public schools with a perfect graduation rate.
“Take your Dreyfoos magic with you out in the world and continue to find your answers and create your magic in your next journey,” Bennett said.
To see the full graduation schedule for the School District of Palm Beach County, click here