“Prepare for Glory” is the tagline from the epic 2006 film The 300. That is what a class of exactly 300 new graduates has spent the past four years doing at Strath Haven High School.
On Friday, June 9, SHHS’s seniors and their community gathered for Commencement ceremonies at Neumann College. SHHS Social Studies teacher Richard Foulk, chosen by the class as faculty speaker, challenged the class of 2017 to make history as they collectively reach “the end of the beginning” of their adult lives. “You be that dramatic event. Use what you have learned and capitalize on your talents! You make the history.” Mr. Foulk suggested that the characteristics of this class meet a great need in today’s political climate, “You are a unique group and have wealth of energy, enthusiasm, creativity and talent. You are kind, accepting and tolerant. Through your work I have seen that you have an understanding of world issues and a deep empathy for those around you … The world you are about to enter is polarized, and extremes of opinion and perspective seem to be the norm. You will need to bridge that gap.”
Dr. Mary Jo Yannacone noted that the seniors — “the last class to graduate from Strath Haven born in the twentieth century, the first to be raised entirely in the new millennium” — will be among the last of the millennials, a cohort sometimes caricatured as “narcissistic, lazy and entitled.” Strath Haven’s Principal asserted that the selflessness of the 2017 seniors stands that stereotype on its head, “I truly want to thank you 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 raising school spirit 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.”
Dr. Lisa Palmer said that “of course” the class endeared itself to her as the first graduates during her tenure as WSSD Superintendent, but also did so through its achievements and its selflessness. The commitment to serve was epitomized in “the jewel in the crown: your participation in the Relay for Life, which … surpassed the one million dollar fundraising milestone this year! … From an early age, your commitment to service has made you an integral part of the very fiber of your community. And, because of the remarkable example that you have modeled for the students who follow you, you have helped to ensure a legacy of service at Strath Haven High School.”
For their part, student speakers Madeline Beck and Michael Atkins appreciated the advantages that had been afforded them, and contemplated the generosity of spirit and presence of mind that will help them and their peers maximize both their contributions to society and the satisfaction that they realize in their lives. Atkins observed: “We must not forget that throughout our nation, and even quite nearby, there are communities where students cannot follow their passions because there is no thriving art or music program, no plethora of AP classes, not even current lab equipment or textbooks.
“As graduates of Strath Haven High School, we have benefited from the best that public education has to offer — a well-resourced, compassionate, and caring school and a community that models acceptance and love. But with privilege comes responsibility. Now it is incumbent upon us to pursue careers, passions, and activities that foster principles we can accept as universal truths — equality, not bigotry; empathy, not alienation; and inclusion, not isolation.
“Take your time,” Madeline Beck advised, recounting an influential piece of advice from her mother to her 9-year-old self, “Class of 2017, I encourage you to stop wishing for what is to come. Whether you like it to or not, time never stops. It never slows down. The amazing opportunities in our future will inevitably come. So pause. Take a deep breath. Look around. See the faces of your loved ones, who have come today to support your walk across this stage, as you receive the diploma that will carry you far beyond this day and the walls of Strath Haven.
“See the faces of your teachers, who have taught you with diligence and passion and gifted you with endless knowledge — the most valuable gift of all. Finally, see the faces of your classmates, who have sculpted you into the incredible person you are today.”
Commemorating a Great Ride
The Commemoration theme was Toy Story, a movie franchise that was just launching its first sequel when the Class of 2017 came into the world. In song, dance, verse, shared recollections and personal insights, Strath Haven seniors last Thursday commemorated and commented on their journey together. Families and friends took the back seat for this ride — in this fortunate year, seats in the spacious and serene Scott Amphitheater on the Swarthmore College campus.
Under the canopy of ancient tulip and oak trees, seniors spoke with humor and honesty, excitement, relief and perhaps some sadness that their shared ride from SRS, NPE and WES, through SHMS, and across the bridge to the high school was ending. It was a last show of the fellow-feeling of an exceptionally close group, expressed by many of its most thoughtful and talented members.