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Chester County Press

Graduation day for Unionville High School

06/08/2016 02:17PM ● By J. Chambless

Families and friends gather for photos after the commencement ceremony.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The 93rd annual commencement for Unionville High School went off perfectly on June 8, managing to completely dodge a thunderstorm that rolled over the Bob Carpenter Center at the University of Delaware while the graduates and their families were kept safe and dry.

After the graduating seniors filed in to “Pomp and Circumstance” played by the UHS Concert Band, and the UHS Chorale sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” the school's alma mater, and “Benediction” by John Conahan, Unionville principal Jim Conley opened the day's remarks by talking about the importance of listening.

“My challenge to you is to listen,” Conley told the crowd. “Listen with an ear that seeks understanding and grasps all of the pearls of wisdom thrust upon you. Listen with an ear that seeks truth and delves into the heart of the matter so that you can better understand.

“Our world celebrates how quickly someone's tweets, posts or blogs can land in the cyberworld about an event or conversation, without taking the time to listen,” Conley said. “Over the next four years, listen to the mentors in your area of study so that, one day, you will be the best in the field of medicine, law, education, the military, the ministry or business.”

A brief loss of the sound system as the storm rolled through gave Conley and school district superintendent John Sanville a moment to snap a selfie from the stage, before Sanville addressed the crowd with some quotes from others.

“'I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that don't work,'” Sanville said. “That was Thomas Edison. This captures both optimism and hard work – so remember both the words and the author. 'Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.' That was Mark Twain. It's sound advice that works anywhere, anytime.

“I invite you to think not only about the advice you will follow, but what you can offer to others. I could tell you to work hard, to be honest, and to savor this moment, but instead I will leave you with this,” Sanville said. “'Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.' That was Dr. Seuss. It's absolute, indisputable truth for the ages, and one to remember.”

The first student honor speaker, Elise Covert, counted some of the numbers. “Four years -- 182 days each school year, times seven hours a day, totals just over 5,000 hours of our lives spent at the high school,” she said. “But this total could never accurately reflect our high school experience. … We've labored over hundreds of hours of homework, stressed about dozens of tests, and pressured ourselves for the past four years to acquire a set of numbers which, today, is erased and only sends us on to the next stage. But then again, our slates are not only covered in numbers, but also in words – friendships and memories, goals and hopes, values and lessons. You see, it's not the numbers, but the words that we must carry with us into the future.”

Student honor speaker Clarisse Cofrancesco wrote, memorized and performed a poem, “Open the Door,” that ended with the lines:

“Success is how many times

You make eye contact with your fate

Shake hands with your destiny

And step into your reality

Because you have a future to reach for, a mold to be broken, an opportunity to open

And no matter how many times you lose sight of who you really are

Your success is waiting just behind that door.”

Jacqueline Bridges, the third student honor speaker, began with a memory -- “Our lunchbox-toting selves arrived in elementary school with big dreams and untied shoes as we greeted our cubby buddies with excitement.

“Each and every one of you has 13 years worth of moments that have gotten you right here, right now, and shaped you into the exceptional individual that you are. … Chase your dream, and if that dream doesn't work out, chase a new one.”

English teacher Joe Ahart was this year's winner of the student-voted UHS Educator of the Year award, and spoke about how his career path wasn't certain from the beginning. After a “completely delusional” childhood dream of being a baseball player, Ahart said, he had teacher in high school who told him, “You're a writer.”

That led to a college newspaper position, and a career of writing about others. “My career was soaring, but I was bored,” Ahart said. Eventually, he took classes and became an English teacher, bringing out the author in each of his students. He has taught for 17 years at Unionville High School, “and I love it,” he said. “Almost by accident, I found my career.”

Ahart then thanked his students and said, “Class of 2016 – no matter how you get there, I hope you find work that feels like play. I know I have.”

After all the diplomas were presented and all the families and relatives stood and cheered for the new graduates, Conley closed the ceremony by saying, “Good luck with your journey in life, Class of 2016. We will miss you.”

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email

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