SHHS’s Class of 2019 Reaches the End of the Journey
Sunny skies smiled upon the Strath Haven Class of 2019 on June 6 and 7 as they came to the end of their school journey in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District, and took the first steps into what’s next.
Thursday’s Commemoration convened the seniors and their families in the dappled evening light of the Scott Outdoor Amphitheater at Swarthmore College to share reminiscences of life from K through 12, from the outset in their various elementary schools, merging in 6th grade to continue their progress through Strath Haven Middle and High Schools. In stories and verse, music and dance, dozens of 2019 class members reflected on the journey that brought them to the threshold of independent life.
Friday afternoon brought more brilliance as the class converged on Neumann College for graduation ceremonies. The 264 grads welcomed a thousand family members and friends, packing the Mirenda Center for the ceremony and reflections that comprise commencement. Before diplomas were awarded, the assembled grads-to-be heard from their peers — student speakers Abigail Loiselle and Abigail McElroy — and their mentors — WSSD Superintendent Dr. Lisa Palmer, SHHS Principal Dr. Kristopher Brown, and their choice for faculty speaker, English teacher Kevin Haney. We excerpt those remarks below, and echo the sentiment common to all: Congratulations to the Strath Haven Class of 2019!
Dr. Lisa Palmer:
Today, you donned your caps and gowns and walked the halls of NPE, SRS & WES — your former elementary schools. As I saw the looks on the faces of the current elementary school children, I saw their awe and wondered what they must be thinking. Will I grow to be 6 foot, 4 inches tall? Will I have glasses? Will I be that smart or pretty or confident, or perhaps all three? And what do I have to do to get there?
Once upon a time — 12 years ago to be exact — you were those same children…if you could go back 12 years and deliver a message to your elementary self, what would you say? Do your homework? Try out for the school musical? Stick with soccer even though it’s hard? Push yourself to make new friends? Appreciate your parents? Take a risk? Get out of your own head? Don’t sweat the small stuff? Whatever it is, a life in retrospect is more than thinking about how you might have done it differently. It is a way to appreciate how much you have grown, what you have learned about yourself and most importantly, how to keep those lessons in mind as you begin your next 12 years…
Now I want you to picture your 30-year-old self, standing in front of you, looking back at you through wiser eyes. What would she want to say? What would he want you to know? What lesson does he or she hope you will carry through your next 12 years? Long after the balloons are gone and the cheers have died down, that’s the question I want you to reflect on the most.
Today is a day that should be defined by wonder, gratitude, and joy…
How did we grow from the doe-eyed 1st graders whose Back-to-School lists included crayons and a 12-pack of colored markers to the 12th graders standing here in black caps and gowns? Wonder. We should never forget the magic and the luck that got us to this moment, here and now. We should let that sense of wonder lift us up for the rest of our lives, something to turn to when times get rough…
I read once that if you’re ever feeling really out of place, you should walk with your palms facing the direction you’re going...the stance seems to suggest “here I am, world.” Here, in this room, with my palms facing forwards, with people I’ve known for over a decade, about to graduate. Not only have we gotten a great education, but, equally importantly, we have made friendships that will have an impact us for the rest of our lives. So as we cross the stage in a few minutes, I say, let’s do it with our palms facing towards our futures, not our pasts. Let’s do it with grateful hearts…
There are still people who can make us smile no matter what. Hopefully, those people are here today. The ones who cheered you on and picked you up when you crumpled into pieces. Let their joy ignite you as you walk across the stage. Feel the power of what we have done. We have all, at some point in our lives, been at a crossroads and chosen joy.
As naive and bright-eyed freshman, we entered the halls of Strath Haven for the first time believing that we knew exactly what lay ahead. We had just ridden atop a wave of glory as we graduated eighth grade. Former monarchs of the school, our feelings of superiority still lingered as we marched across the bridge. And on that first day of 9th grade, we were introduced to a beloved and wary soldier who, like ourselves, was setting sail on the last chapter of his success story. Homer’s The Odyssey tells the tale of Odysseus, a hero fresh from the Battle of Troy beginning his travels home to Ithaca. Much like Odysseus as he entered the end of his tale, we were entering our final years in the Strath Haven community…
Much like him, our motivation was that of success. To cross the finish line and be greeted by the diploma that highlighted our efforts in making it to the end. We hoped to be welcomed as heroes. Yet, along the way, high school provided obstacles in which we were forced to learn from mistakes and search deep within ourselves to battle each challenge head on. At one point or another throughout the last four years, we have each faced our own cyclops…
What we learned from The Odyssey and our experiences at Strath Haven is each hero needs a hand to reach to in times of trouble and inspiration to look towards in moments of doubt. The greatest power one has, however, is their own determination. Looking back I realize that it was never about simply getting to graduation and moving on to the next story, but instead it was about the journey to getting here.
You know that ever pressing charge, ‘Go out and change the world?’ The most successful individuals are exercising something far more important. Something that sets the stage for real change. They are altering their OWN world. The world that they get to manipulate, modify, and essentially take ownership of in this very small 100 year window that we call life. They are grinding to make their world better…
Want to change the world? Make self-reflection a daily habit. Being self-reflective leads to self-awareness…self-awareness leads to healing, peace, and an understanding of you that is unprecedented and unmatched…Don’t leave this life wondering where the years went. Master self-reflection and live each day like it’s your last.
Want to change the world? Express gratitude... You can take part in practicing it this evening. As you march out of the Mirenda Center, find someone to thank for something…anything.
Want to change the world? Spread love…Love is not as complex as you may believe. REALLY difficult at times, no doubt. But this arena tonight is a concrete example of love….everyone here supporting and celebrating you has loved you unconditionally…it may not have always felt that way, sometimes these amazing people have had to raise the flames of discipline over your heads, sometimes they criticized your choices, and your habits, but all of that, and so much more, is a deep and lasting extension of love.
Summon that love inside you each day…and don’t forget to love someone exceptionally important: YOU. Never neglect your happiness. Never neglect your need to stand with your face in the sun. After all, you’re here in this life for a good time. Not a long time.
Dr. Kristopher Brown:
Graduates: please take a look around this arena tonight; there are over 2,000 people here who have invested in you; invested time, rides, energy, unlimited data, school clothes, and any other way that their money and love could be spent, in you. I speak now on behalf of all the graduates when I say that these investments have been much appreciated. Without your time, and efforts, our graduates might not be who they are today, so thank you.
Next tonight, I would like to recognize and acknowledge our faculty and staff. Collectively, this team of teachers, and support staff at the high school has done a tremendous job preparing these students to take advantage of all that life has to offer outside of Wallingford-Swarthmore. Graduates,… during your years at Strath Haven your teachers pushed you to think critically, gave you the space to make mistakes and helped grow the confidence to learn from them; essential skills that you will need moving forward...
I challenge you, Class of 2019, to keep being exactly who you are. What you have shown us over the last four years is an incredibly talented and driven group. Don’t cage the passion and the potential you’ve displayed here when life throws you a curve ball. Be dream chasers. Don’t lead a life full of regret about missed opportunities. Know that there will be adversity along the way, but what I know about the Class of 2019 is that you possess the courage and the resilience to overcome. Don’t be afraid, don’t waste failure; ask for help when you need it, lend a hand when you can, but most importantly – be you. Take with you the great attributes that you have shown us at Strath Haven, and go for it.