Henry “Hank” Lush warmed up the crowd with a one-liner before he got a bit more serious in his opening remarks to the Penns Valley Area High School Class of 2013.
“Hello ladies,” he said in a deep voice with a pause like that of an Old Spice commercial as he popped a thumbs up to the audience, “and gentlemen.”
The class president drew laughs from the other 91 graduates and bleacher-filled crowd who watched each senior walk the makeshift stage on the lawn of the football field. This was the only outdoor graduation in Centre County this year.
Lush, of Potters Mills, said he was proud to represent his class, and although he was sad to leave a school that gave so much back to him, he’s looking forward to a future at Juniata College this fall.
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“I think we owe this school and community for molding us into what we are,” Lush said.
Principal Dustin Dalton said the Class of 2013 set the standard for what a graduating class should be.
“They were a great group, that’s for sure,” Dalton said. “They made my first year as principal here easy, and their drive, effort and hard work is something I hope carries into all future graduates.”
According to reports from the school district, the high school has a 90 to 95 percent graduation rate of which nearly 80 percent of graduates continue their education at a two- or four-year institute.
According to a report from Karen Myers at the high school, this year, 71 of the 92 high school graduates will be attending college. The others, according to Dalton, are entering the workforce — five in farming, five in construction and at least three in mechanics.
“It’s incredible that they went out of their way to find another route in their lives and set themselves up with jobs already,” Dalton said.
Of those attending college in the fall, a reported four will be studying agriculture science and agriculture business management; 20 will pursue a medical degree including nursing, physician assistants and nuclear medicine; six in engineering; three who will enlist in the Army and one who will be a part of the Penn State Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program; seven as English students classified by the school as literature studies, communication and education; six liberal arts students in graphic and interior design, and film studies, and four who will pursue a career in computer sciences and information technology.
Of those moving on in both a college and military career is Brandi Heckman, 18, of Spring Mills, who will be part of the Penn State Army ROTC program.
As she walked the stage, her white cap was designed with red, white and blue stars and stripes as a symbol of her future.
“It was something I researched and really wanted to do,” Heckman said, explaining she is the first in her family to take a military route. “I think Penns Valley prepared me for that. This is where I grew up and where my entire family is from.”
Her friend since kindergarten, Maggie Lynch, 17, also dressed her cap with a quote she hopes could inspire her classmates: “Our dreams will always break the boundaries of our fears.”
This year, there were also three valedictorians who carried a 4.0 GPA throughout their high school career — Kyle Houser, David Leedy and Kayla Snyder.
Each addressed their class, with jokes, quotes and a message to stay positive in the future, and to find a passion and pursue it, while showing their appreciation for the faculty, staff, their peers and the community.
“Don’t get down on yourself. Stay positive and good things will happen,” Leedy said, while also finding a way to poke fun at Lush — with his approval — for being a disorganized class president.
Snyder said she hopes her classmates can find high expectations in themselves and meet them.
Houser simply thanked the Penns Valley community for providing an atmosphere he was proud to be a part of.
“I couldn’t think of another place I’d want to grow up than right here,” Houser said.
And most of his classmates agreed.
“There’s nothing I won’t miss about Penns Valley,” Lush added. “The teachers would go out of their way to help you grow in academics and in life, and we were able to form a close-knit bond with each other because of the small class.”
And when it comes to handing out advice to the underclassmen, the graduates said work hard, have fun and cherish both the good and bad memories of high school.
“There are pros and cons to high school, but persevere through it and try to enjoy what you can because it will go by fast,” said Tanner Potter, 18, who will be attending Golden West College in California.
“Work hard. It pays off,” Lynch said. “Hard work is directly proportional to success.”