Avon Grove HS graduates 444 at June 12 commencement
● Published by Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
While the 90th annual commencement ceremonies for Avon Grove High School, held June 12 at the Bob Carpenter Center in Newark, began and ended the traditional way with a processional of “Pomp and Circumstance” and a presentation of diplomas, it was the stuff of its middle – six student speeches – that served as its key and inspirational narrative.
Before a sold-out audience who packed the 5,000-seat University of Delaware arena to see 444 students receive their diplomas, the graduation band's rendition of the National Anthem was the perfect introduction to remarks by school Principal Scott DeShong, who began the ceremony by recognizing the more than one dozen graduates who will be attending the military or affiliated academies. They include Tyler Barton, U.S. Coast Guard; Eric Bodalla-Zovala, U.S. Marine Corps; U.S. Anthony Cacciavillani, National Guard; Brennen Carr, U.S. Army ROTC; Alexander Day, U.S. Air Force Academy; Avery Domino, U.S. Army; Ryan Gerenser, U.S. Military Academy; Nathaniel Hammond, U.S. Naval Academy; Zachary Hoferer, U.S. Navy; William McCrossan, U.S. National Guard; David Oppenheim, U.S. Army; Abigail Ramon, U.S. National Guard; Ethan Sachs, U.S. Army ROTC; Dylan Seace, U.S. Army; and Maggie Weir, U.S. Military Academy.
After the students were introduced, they received a standing ovation by the entire audience.
Thanking several of her teachers by name during her presentation, Senior Speaker Meredith Haas led off the student speech portion of the ceremony with “Dear Avon Grove,” and while she acknowledged that the event would serve as the last time the graduates would sit “shoulder to shoulder” for the last time, she told the students that the connections they made during high school need to be applied as they begin their future.
“You, the students, are who have made this school into what it is today,” Haas said. “You helped to form bonds. You have helped to change how the school sees us. You helped to embrace the feeling of what Avon Grove truly is, and that is a community.”
Haas added: “You, the good, hardworking people who sit in this room are the ones who embody the Avon Grove spirit, which will follow you to whatever job, college of internship you apply for. I hope you remember this school as what got your foot in the door of life, because I feel that way.”
In her presentation, “Passion is Success,” Class Salutatorian Shannon Oakes told her fellow graduates that while they may think and act differently from one another, that they all share a goal that was constructed, in part, at Avon Grove High School: The pursuit of a passion. Oakes encouraged her classmates to never lose sight of their dreams.
“We cannot let the criticisms of others, or the belief that we are not smart or talented enough, take away our potential,” she said. “We can change that by following our passions. Success is the ability to take forms of passion and then pursue it in a meaningful way. Every goal is attainable if you work hard for it.”
In her speech, “One Last Time,” Senior Speaker Bailey Fulmer encouraged her classmates to stop and acknowledge the people in their lives who have helped them. She began her speech by referring to a social experiment conducted by world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell several years ago, who played his instrument in a New York City subway station during rush hour, and went virtually unrecognized.
“It's finally time to realize the bright future in front of us,” Fulmer said. “One last time, we are in the same place with the same people. One last time, look at the the people you're sitting shoulder to shoulder with, before we embark on the next phase of our lives.
“Don't be like the people in the subway. Don't be so focused on what's directly in front of you that you forget to stop and look around for awhile. Look around. Look at your peers, your instructors, your mentors, your administrators and your parents...everyone who has been here for you.”
Class Valedictorian Devin Trinter's “Keep an Open Mind” asked that graduates be open to the wide-open possibilities that await them, and may end up changing the original direction they wish to go in.
“You may be halfway through a college degree before realizing that’s not even what you want to learn,” he said. “You could be out of college working your current dream job and realize that this is not the life for you. You could almost retired before realizing your true passion in life.
“Your dream of becoming an engineer today doesn’t mean you can’t end up becoming a chemist, a surgeon, a lawyer. You could become a trash man, a coconut farmer, or someone who sells pickled goods and calls himself the Pickleman. These last three are all things I wanted to be in the past. The point is, the possibilities are limitless. So keep an open mind because your future can always change.”
In his speech, “Your Impact is the Most Valuable Currency,” Senior Speaker Benjamin James said that the last moments he had with his dying grandmother two months ago had a profound impression on what he deemed is important – a message he passed along to his fellow graduates.
“When we are lying on our death bed, we're not that worried about how much money we have, about how much power we have, or how much we perceive we've gained,” James said. “The only thing that's going to matter is the impact we have had on other people's lives.
“My charge to you, the class of 2018, is to live your life so that when you die, the world cries, while you rejoice.”
Senior Class President Grace Carr-Hawkins' speech, “Unity,” took an affectionate look at the past four years at the high school, and while she asked her fellow graduates to recognize the commonality of their shared experiences, she also asked them to embrace another experience together in the future: Failure.
“We are all united by failure, yes, failure,” Carr-Hawkins said. “Failure is not fun, but it is an essential part of success. I believe that with too much success, we may never find the determination to succeed where we truly belong.
“As J.K. Rowling said, 'It is impossible to live a life without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.'”
DeShong told the audience that 89 percent of the graduates will continue their education in the fall, and attend schools in 23 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, over 80 students were awarded over $150,000 in scholarships and awards from the school's 78 scholarship and awards programs, and the entire class was awarded over $2.5 million in scholarships.
DeShong then acknowledged some of the academic-year's highlights. They included the Marching Band winning the 4A State Championship; the school's choirs, concert band, wind ensemble, string orchestra, and full orchestra receiving superior or excellent ratings at the Festivals of Music Adjudication this spring; participation in the district's art show; the musical productions of “Oliver Twist” and “Mary Poppins”; the success of several sports teams; the reinvention of the agThon and the raising of more than $12,000 for the B+ Foundation, the largest provider of financial assistance to families of children with cancer.
Perhaps the school's best moment came in the wake of one of the nation's worst tragedies, DeShong said. Led by the conviction of several students leaders, most of them seniors, the school participated in a 17-minute walkout that drew more than 2,000 students, teachers and administrators to observe silence in honor of the 14 students and three staff members who were killed on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“It was more than just student leaders from this class that facilitated this event,” DeShong said. “The tone of a school is set by the senior class. The freshmen, sophomores, and juniors at Avon Grove High School adopt their outlook, attitude, and behavior based on what they see from you. You set this example in the classroom, in the hallways, and on the practice field.
“You had the opportunity to be part of something bigger than yourselves as individuals, and made it about others. You defined our school culture, set an example for other students, and changed Avon Grove High School.”
DeShong encouraged the graduates to look at their high school diploma as merely a springboard to future success, not as the “pinnacle of your achievements.”
“Always strive to do better and win every day,” he said. “You either get better or you get worse, but you never stay the same. Be humble in your victories and resilient in your setbacks – nobody goes through life undefeated.
“Embrace being uncomfortable -- growth begins at the end of your comfort zone. Finally, your ability to do something isn't always based on what others say you do well. The one who wins the race in the long run is usually not the strongest or the fastest, but the one who has tried the hardest.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.