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Chester County Press

Poignant student speeches highlight Avon Grove Commencement

06/18/2019 02:07PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

For any 18-year-old who is chosen to deliver a commencement speech at his or her high graduation, it is often a daunting task, a real knee-knocker of a moment in which to encapsulate four years into one coherent message.

Now, try doing that in front of a crowd of 5,000 at a basketball arena.

That was just what Cassidy Miao, Brendan Duff, Michelle Pablo-Ortiz, Sahan Sundar and Tyler Curtis did, as their addresses at the Bob Carpenter Center on June 11 served as the highlight of commencement exercises for the 2019 graduates of Avon Grove High School.

The event, held before a packed house of family and friends, saw 438 graduates receive their diplomas, presented to them by Superintendent Christopher Marchese, School Board President Tracy Lisi, School Board Vice President Bill Wood and Senior Assistant Principal Dr. Natalie Ortega-Moran.

In his opening remarks, Principal Scott DeShong, he introduced the 10 graduates who will be entering into the nation's military forces, and thanked them for their future service. He said that the Class of 2019 will send 88 percent of its graduates to college at over 100 colleges and universities, and that this year's graduating class have received over $2.7 million in scholarships and grants.

In her address, “Smells like home,” senior speaker Cassidy Miao told the audience that the sense of smell “can awaken so many hidden memories within our brains,” and said to her fellow graduates that it will be the permeating scent of nearby mushroom farms that will be associated with their four years at Avon Grove.

“When you played outside with your neighborhood friends as a kid, when you rode the hot sticky bus home from school, when you traveled anywhere within Chester County, that same nauseating fragrance follows you, as it follows you now,” Miao said. “It follows you as a friend, a fellow student, a fellow athlete, a musician, environmentalist, writer, robotics engineer, dreamer.”

While many of her fellow graduates will soon be departing for colleges all across the country, “I hope whenever you return back here you welcome the ripe, earthy smell of our childhood,” Miao said. “I hope it smells like home.”

Salutatorian Brendan Duff's address, “On Courage,” discussed the definition – and application – of courage, which he described as “the mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.”

“What I like about this definition is that it shows the difference between courage and fearlessness,” Duff said. “Fearlessness is the absence of fear, but courage is the ability to overcome it.”

At the conclusion of his address, Duff encouraged his fellow graduates to be courageous in their lives, to try new things, make difficult decisions and take calculated risks.

“In 1947, former President Harry Truman wrote, 'America was not built on fear,” he said. “America was built one courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.' Take this determination with you into college and the next stage in your lives.”

“Leaving your footprints,” the address given by Valedictorian Sahana Sundar, encouraged her fellow graduates to consider the large impact they will have on the world and others. She encouraged them to don't be afraid to make mistakes and accept them, learn from them and move on.

“The second thing I have to say ties in a lot with the first: Don't be afraid to ask for help,” Sundar said. “Everyone needs help sometimes, and there's no shame in accepting support from others. In fact, our support networks can lift us up and help us step forward into the future.”

Sundar concluded her address by telling the graduates to believe in themselves, and to erase self-doubt.

“We all have the power to change the world – to leave our footprints – as long as we believe in ourselves and step forward with confidence,” she said.

Miao, Duff and Sundar were joined by Senior Speaker Pablo-Ortiz, who delivered “We are the future,” and Senior Class President Curtis, who delivered “Become your future.” The event also included performances of “Pomp and Circumstance” and “Alamo March” by the Avon Grove High School Graduation Band, a rendition of “Omnia Sol” by the Senior Ensemble and the Alma Mater by the Avon Grove High School Golden Chorale.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email








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