By Kaylee Lindenmuth
SHENANDOAH - As embers from fireworks fell with the sun, 78 Shenandoah Valley students became alumni in a commencement ceremony held at Veterans Memorial Stadium Friday.
The day began early for the Class of 2018, as senior students reported to the school for 10:00am to parade through the Elementary School, before heading to the football field for their final graduation practice, continuing a tradition which began with the Class of 2016.
The students returned to the field for 7:00pm, donning their caps and gowns for the real thing, set to receive their diplomas before a packed home grandstand.
Following the playing of Pomp and Circumstance, the National Anthem, and the Pledge of Allegiance led by Noelle Davis and Jason Najunas, Superintendent Brian Waite spoke of the class in a welcome address.
"What a joyous day it is. A day of recognition for our honored students, who are soon to become our honored graduates. A day when dreams begin, of new beginnings, and a day of promises yet to be fulfilled," said Waite. "Class of 2018, I ask you today to do some soul searching. Some self-reflection and self-analysis on this day of honor. Step back and take a breath and think about how you obtained this diploma. Hard work, dedication to a cause, and discipline to reach your goal."
"But my question is, who instilled those qualities into your being? Chances are, it was a person who loved you, cared enough about you to dedicate themselves to you, and never wavered from that mission," Waite added, asking the graduates to give those role models thanks, whether they were parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, legal guardians, etc.
"Show them how much you appreciate their dedication to you. Show them how much they are loved, and that this honor that you receive today, as much is theirs as it is yours," Waite said.
Waite continued to note the talents, achievements, and dedication of the Class of 2018.
"The class of 2018 has continuously given of themselves to others, whether it's within the school community, local community, or beyond. They are compassionate to the needs of others," said Waite. "This class was challenged and had the courage to take more difficult academic courses, including college level courses. We also had a member of the class take courses in emerging health professions. Both of those are the first of any class."
Waite then spoke of the future plans of some college students, noting students will attend schools such as Penn State, Wilkes, DeSales, and Temple, studying majors such as biology, criminal justice, pre-med, and more.
"Overall, the class of 2018 has secured over $1.4 million in scholarship money," said Waite. "Very nice out of a class of 78."
"Remember, learning is forever. Never lose that desire to learn and grow. You showed the desire to learn and grow as students at Shenandoah Valley. Continue this desire in the future," Waite said to the students.
Following Waite were class advisors Michele Krusinsky and Kim Wargo, congratulating the class and speaking of their experience as class advisors, and memories beyond that, as the two are parents of students in the class.
"Each and every one of you worked hard to get here tonight. You should be proud of all you've accomplished," said Wargo. "We have enjoyed working with you over the last for years. As your class advisors, our primary job was to get your class financially set to graduate. From fundraising, who can forget our fabulous quarter-zip sales, to car washes, floats, formal, and prom, we've come to know you as hard working, kind, talented, intelligent young adults."
"Somewhere along the way, we've formed bonds and friendships with you and your families. As a parent, this is the moment of happiness, sadness, and a little dread," said Krusinsky. "I'm having flashbacks of Pre-K and Kindergarten. I can still see some of you in your communion dresses and suits. All the years are flashing before my eyes, and now we're here, in this beautiful sea of blue and white, watching you get ready to embark on an extraordinary adventure."
Following the class advisors were speeches on the three R's, reflections, respect, and responsibility, by valedictorian Lauren Petritsch, salutatorian Taylor Loughlin, and class speaker Allison Wargo.
Petritsch began with reflections.
"Graduations are unique because they represent a time in our lives that is a fusion of the past and the present. We are on the edge of adulthood, and we are moving into an unknown future full of wonderful and amazing opportunities," said Petritsch. "It is the only time in our lives where the entire world will be a beautiful adventure. We can be filled with awe, knowing that we can be anything that we choose to be. Among us is a class of rising stars."
"The road to greatness is sure to be filled with potholes, self doubt, and sometimes even failure," said Petritsch, before recalling the hurdles Walt Disney faced before reaching success, noting his first animation company bankrupted, and he was fired by a news editor for allegedly lacking imagination.
"The future is not just something that happens. We have to create it. Embrace every opportunity. Continue to learn and grow, and use your experiences here at Shenandoah Valley as a road map to guide you on your way," said Petritsch. "As you look back on this evening, there may be no other moment in our lives that will feel so much like the end of a journey, and perhaps the beginning of a new path."
"As we reflect on our years as blue devils, we may feel the bittersweet happiness of moving on to bigger and better things," Petritsch added. "Graduation has a way of bringing out both the tears and the smiles. We face the future with full hearts, knowing that somehow we are also reflecting on one of life's bigger lessons, that we cherish every moment as moments come to an end far too quickly."
Loughlin then spoke on the subject of respect.
"Respect is a concept learned throughout all stages of your life. As young children, we were always taught to respect whomever we communicated with, whether it was an adult, teacher or family member," said Loughlin, then recalling different points in life when respect was taught, how, and by who, drawing on personal experience.
"Before you can learn to respect others, you need to learn to respect yourself. This means performing to the best of your abilities, being proud of your accomplishments, and being the best person you can be," said Loughlin. "Once you learn to respect yourself, and you gain self confidence, respecting others just comes naturally."
Class Speaker Allison Wargo then spoke about responsibility.
"When you walked through the doors of Shenandoah Valley for the very first time as children, you did not realize what responsibilities you were about to undertake," said Wargo. "From your first day of preschool, your teachers taught you to not steal that blue crayon from your classmate. In second grade, being responsible meant not pushing anyone at recess. Sixth grade taught us not to copy anyone's homework, and to be responsible enough to do your own work."
"Throughout our whole childhood, our teachers and parents guided us through responsibilities we will need in our everyday lives," Wargo added.
Following Wargo was the presentation of the Shenandoah Valley Alumni Hall of Fame, prior to which Andy Ulicny, chairman of the Wall of Fame Committee, highlighted the history of the commencement ceremonies in Shenandoah.
"Commencement has been a major step in the lives of our youth for a long, long time here in Shenandoah. In fact, history notes that the first Shenandoah High graduating class came in May of 1879," said Ulicny.
Ulicny noted that this year's ceremony would be the 140th year Shenandoah schools had a commencement ceremony, but the 147th graduating class.
"In the 1930s, they held dual graduations. They graduated in January, and they graduated another class in June, so there were seven such graduations in the 1930s," said Ulicny. "So you are the proud 147th graduating class out of the Shenandoah public school system."
Ulicny continued to note that the first commencement held at the football stadium was in 1975, and in 1998, the ceremony moved away from a guest speaker format in favor of the current wall of fame format.
"Instead of the guest speaker, we choose to hear from our own. We want to hear from the very best of Shenandoah's graduates," said Ulicny.
"As we mark this annual academic achievement of high school graduation, we recognize that you graduates have achieved a major accomplishment in your young lives," said Ulicny. "We heartily applaud this triumph, and still, the SV School District wants to establish a new bar for each of you departing seniors. It wants you to set even higher goals to achieve upon your departure. It wants you, graduates, to strive to become the best of the best that Shenandoah Valley has as you look to begin the next phase of your lives."
Shenandoah Valley inducted three into the Wall of Fame during Friday's ceremony, they are 1983 graduate Ray J. Michalowski, 1975 graduate Dr. Betsi Sosna White, and 1941 graduate Vincent N. DiRenzo.
Michalowski and White were present to accept their awards, and both spoke to the graduates, while relatives were present to accept for DiRenzo, who is deceased.
First to speak was White, who attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, earning a Bachelor's degree in nursing, becoming a staff nurse at the Medical Center Hospital of Vermont, Harvard Hospital, and the Community General Osteopathic Hospital in Dauphin County. White then attended the University of Vermont College of Medicine.
"I think it's fair to say that everyone wants to be a success, but what does that mean? Do you have to be a doctor or a lawyer, have a lot money and live in a big house? Society seems to believe so, but I challenge you to look at it differently," said White. "To me, success means making a positive difference every day in the lives of those around us."
Next was Michalowski, who attended Thiel College, receiving a Bachelor's degree in Medical Technology, and later a Master's from the University of Rochester, and eventually his Juris Doctor degree and a certification in Law and Government from Widener University School of Law. Michalowski served on the Joint State Government Task Force and Advisory Committee on Opioid Prescription Drug Proliferation.
"I have but one message, one point to make to all of you on a day which traditionally marks a major step into adulthood, and that is this: never completely grow up," said Michalowski, defining being "completely grown up" as being completely sure one has nothing left to learn.
The third and final wall of fame inductee for 2018 was DiRenzo, with relatives accepting on his behalf.
DiRenzo graduated from J.W. Cooper High, immediately enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps. Immediately after, DiRenzo enrolled in East Stroudsburg, majoring in geography and chemistry. DiRenzo was recruited by the CIA in 1956, serving as a photo interpreter, analyzing images taken by U-2 high altitude reconnaissance aircraft.
In 1962, DiRenzo served as the leader of the photo interpreter team that detected the presence of Soviet ballistic missiles deployed in Cuba. The team's discovery withstood scrutiny to reach President John F. Kennedy, with the existence of the missiles triggering the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In 1984, DiRenzo retired from the CIA, and in 2017, he passed away at the age of 88.
Following the Wall of Fame induction was the presentation of diplomas, the turning of the tassels, and the passing of the mantle between Allison Wargo, Class of 2018 president, and Emily Demalis, Class of 2019 president.
Principal Stuart Tripler remarked about the class and the end of his first year as principal in the farewell remarks, which was followed by the Alma Mater. As the Alma Mater concluded, fireworks were fired off from behind the home grandstands, in full view of the graduates.
The graduates then processed off the field, gathering with family and friends near the baseball field entrance for photos and to celebrate.