Two hundred fifty-six bright and bright-eyed seniors radiated enthusiasm as they massed backstage at Neumann College’s Miranda Center before processing into the gym where keyed-up families awaited them.
On stage, student speakers expressed gratitude in their remarks, and the seniors received their diplomas with pride, shortly afterward, flipped their tassels, and joyously tossed their mortarboards toward the ceiling. Awash in these emotions, the Strath Haven High School Class of 2016 was released to a gorgeous summery evening and the promise of the larger world beyond.
Like his predecessor in 2015, Dr. Michael Pladus addressed his last SHHS class as superintendent. It was also his first, as he recalled being recruited to come out of semi-retirement to serve as interim WSSD’s superintendent. “Nearly a year later, I can tell you that if I could only have one graduating class to call my own in Wallingford-Swarthmore, it would be you, the Class of 2016. I entered the District with the highest of expectations based on the Strath Haven and Wallingford-Swarthmore reputation, and I leave even more impressed with not just your reputation, but, more importantly, your character.
“Let it suffice to say, that the Class of 2016, Strath Haven High School, and the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District and community lived up to its rave reviews, [and] is every bit as good as everyone says, and, dare I say, even better! … I will leave you with the ten words with which I greeted the faculty and staff back in August: Work hard, be grateful, pay it forward and enjoy the ride!”
Student speakers began by reflecting on the past, while their teachers and leaders helped them look into the future with confidence. Seniors Jen Rowan and Kate Dirienzi, chosen by their class cabinet to represent the Class of 2016, recalled their journeys through the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District, from The Kids’ Place to SHHS, and the lessons that stayed with them.
Musing on the theme “Carpe Diem,” Jen Rowan said, “At age 10, overwhelmed by my own curious and eager mind, living every moment to the fullest seemed like such a simple task. … Growing up, we lived a life that was scripted. Kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school. Every day has been preparation for the future. But it’s now the end of our script, the end of our neatly paved path, and the beginning of an open terrain …
“You all must have the courage and intuition to work for the things you wish to achieve. … Only moving forward down the path, never feel as if you need to go back, never ask yourself ‘what if?’ As we are unleashed into the real world, embrace all the extraordinary things you can accomplish with the time right in front of you. To the Class of 2016, the clock is ticking, now is the time where we begin writing our own scripts.”
Kate Dirienzi recalled the school supplies lists that provided structure and comfort at the beginning of each school year, and made suggestions about what standard equipment should replace the trapper-keepers and 24-color box of Crayolas in the (metaphorical) backpack a graduate will tote into the next phase of life and learning.
“Leave room in the second compartment of your backpack for the teachers who believed in you and were able to assure you that your input was not only intelligent but somehow extremely important. Leave behind apprehension and instances of disappointment. Inclusion of this in your backpack will only weigh you down and slow you down. You may leave names and faces of the people that surround you at home if you wish. They are inevitably bound to fade. In spite of that, carry with you at all times the feelings and memories that these various names and faces created with you.
“Carry the time you accomplished something you would have never thought possible the year before. Carry the late nights, the laughs, and the irrefutable connections you have formed over the years. Be sure to leave room in your heart/backpack for what is to come. Carry with you the exuberance of making it here and the excited anxiety of moving forward.”
Teacher Timothy Styer, selected by the class of 2016 as faculty speaker, delivered “Haven’s Last Lecture” — by no means his last, but rather a valedictory imparting of wisdom to the seniors, abstracted from some of the rules of Mr. Styer’s own classroom, and influenced by his interactions with students over the years: “Be positive. Make others smile. Value trust.
“Embody integrity. Extend forgiveness. Avoid complacency. Always improve. Be the best. Exceed potential. Surpass expectations. Finally, be happy.
“I would like to finish with this last one and how it reflects upon my own interpretation of the meaning of life — it is, after all, really not that complicated. The meaning of life is to simply make sure that your life has meaning, loving what you do and surrounding yourself with loving, supportive people … A goal that you need to make for yourself is to establish the meaning in your life; with this will come fulfillment and happiness. If, at the end of the day, you can look at your reflection in the mirror and you can say to that person that you are truly happy, then you have won.”
‘A class so strong in accomplishments and character’
As she presented the Class of 2016, SHHS Principal MaryJo Yannacone also noted the essential roles that parents and members of the faculty play in the development of a class so strong in accomplishments and character. “Each class of graduates who walk across the stage to receive their diplomas represents the broader community which has supported them in pursuing their passions, persevering through adversity, and accomplishing their dreams.”
In addition to citing its academic, athletic, and artistic accomplishments, Dr. Yannacone thanked the Class of 2016 “For raising the bar at Strath Haven, specifically with regard to school climate and culture.
“Last spring as you began to plan for your senior year and set goals for yourselves as a class: setting a positive tone and encouraging active involvement were two areas you clearly expressed as significant and important to you. From that point on to today, you have worked consistently and collaboratively to reach those goals, and you leave Strath Haven a better place as a result … thank you for your leadership in the classroom.
“Your teachers describe you as passionate, engaged learners … Most worthy of thanks, however, is your development into adults with a genuinely refined sense of personal responsibility, a true optimism about life, and a sense of gratitude for what Wallingford Swarthmore has provided to you. I cannot tell you how much it means to me, to our teachers and staff to know that as a class you have understood and appreciated the efforts of everyone in our school community to bring you the finest educational experience available anywhere.”