Avon Grove High School graduates 415 at Delaware Stadium06/16/2021 10:32AM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
On June 12, the morning after a summer storm had postponed the 93rd annual commencement exercises for the Avon Grove High School Class of 2021 the evening before, the gray clouds above Delaware Stadium in Newark gave only the slightest hint that they would open up again.
For the 415 graduates who received their diplomas, however, another downfall would be of little hindrance, given that each of them had endured and emerged victorious from a stop-start-stop haunted house tour through a pandemic that is still leaving its mark.
The story of this year’s graduating class is, “as you can imagine, somewhat different,” school Principal Scott DeShong told graduates seated in the south end zone and the more than 5,000 who were seated on the home side of the 18,880-seat football stadium.
Following a stirring a cappella rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by graduating senior Julianna Rose Brescia and recognition of those graduates pursuing careers in the U.S. military, DeShong recalled the events of last March that led to the school and its students being forced to navigate through the 15-month duration of COVID-19.
“If you were in school, even for just part of the year, your experience was masked and distanced, always one step away from a COVID outbreak sending you home to your bedroom, kitchen or living room,” DeShong said. “In other words, school certainly did not look like school. You were either images on a screen, or masks and plexiglas.
“Look what you’ve done,” he said. “In the face of uncertainty, you pressed on. You adapted. You finished. You supported one another. You gutted it out, even when the end seemed beyond reach. You, the Class of 2021, are the accomplishment.
“Honestly, if this is what you are able to overcome, I am really, really struggling to figure out what you cannot.”
In her address “Wishing the World Was Still Small,” Class President Amber Heyward summed up her emotions when she quoted the last two lines of a song that had touched her: “I just miss how it felt standing next to you wearing matching dresses/before the world was big.”
“Now that I am here, I find myself wishing the world was still small,” she said. “I am scared that it is going to swallow me whole the moment I step into it. But the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that the world was never really that small or simple.
“It’s okay to not be 100 percent sure – to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re not alone. Everyone around you is just guessing as they go. We’re all just kids navigating a big, scary world.
“As you step into that big, scary world, remember you’re not taking that step alone.”
In his address “I Never Thought,” Valedictorian Joseph Daghir called his last year in high school “a blindfolded roller coaster, with no shortage of twists, turns, ups, downs and loops.”
“Although our senior year may not have unfolded exactly how we envisioned it as freshmen, I am incredibly appreciative of the tireless effort that our teachers, faculty and families have devoted to our success throughout high school – both before the pandemic and during it.”
“As the rollercoaster of high school pulls back into the station, we are bubbling up for an entirely new, even more exciting ride,” he added. “The next few years will fly by even quicker than the last, so make every moment count.”
In his amusing speech entitled “From Food Fights to Philosophical Discussions,” Salutatorian Benjamin Nelson looked back on how the world has changed in the four years since he and his fellow graduates entered the school as freshmen.
“TikTok has delighted the senses and killed the brain cells of millions,” he said. “A small, wrinkled and green alien, known only by the name of Baby Yoda, has become immortalized in rap songs, memes and plush toys. We let a cylindrical speaker called ‘Alexa’ hear and record all of our conversations, and Blake Shelton is supposed to marry Gwen Stefani. I don’t know if we should laugh or cry.
“All of our experiences in between have brought us here to today, to this moment, and as you look forward to what your lives will look like beyond high school I hope you remember this moment,” Nelson added. “Because even if you didn’t appreciate every moment of high school, it was your time here that made you into the person you are today.”
Senior speaker Nancy Castano Flores delivered a powerful address entitled “El sueno Americano,” in which she thanked her parents -- in English and Spanish – for believing in the American Dream.
“While it is said that parents will move mountains for their children, mine actually moved countries for my brothers and I,” said Flores, who arrived in the U.S. 18 years ago. “My parents came to this country with nothing. They suffered and struggled but thanks to them, I stand here today and I can proudly say that I am a Mexican-born female who is also a first-generation high school graduate. Next fall, I will be attending college and pursuing a degree in education, and looking to fulfill my American Dream.”
Senior speaker Raul Lopez then delivered “Omnia Sol,” in which he reflected upon the impact of the last year on his fellow classmates, and the relationships he had with them.
“So many things proved themselves as uncertainties over the course of the last year, to the point where every day, we expected something to go wrong,” he said. “Everyone and everything seemed restless, but as a community we persevered and pushed through.”
Asking his fellow gradates to acknowledge each other, Lopez encouraged them to reach out to each other, and mend relationships.
“If today is about us, we cannot celebrate without being together first,” he said.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].