Amid the cheers and applause of their family and friends, members of the State College Area High School Class of 2015 triumphantly tossed their caps in the air, their high school careers finally coming to an end.
Graduation came for the more than 550 students after countless hours of work and what Superintendent Bob O’Donnell referred to as “the most brutal winter I’ve ever experienced.”
NUMBER OF GRADUATES: 561
WHERE: Bryce Jordan Center
VALEDICTORIAN: Enrique Del Castillo, who graduated with a 4.90 GPA.
SALUTATORIAN: Andrew Shu, who graduated with a 4.86 GPA.
MUSIC: Prior to the ceremony, Paul Leskowicz directed the student band in several prelude pieces, including Corey McBride’s “Moonscape,” John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and Samuel Ward’s “America the Beautiful.” Graduates marched onto the arena floor to the familiar sounds of Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance, March No. 1.” This was followed by a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.”
BLAST FROM THE PAST: Class President Jimmy Steff envisioned a future for himself and his classmates that was based on their own childhood.
He asked that his classmates reminisce to the simpler times as children, the creative euphoria felt when coloring or running to get somewhere because of sheer excitement.
“Remember to stay young at heart,” he said, “and use the same authenticity and enthusiasm you had as a child in creating your new life.”
In the years to come, he said, he wants his class to be so excited about the things they do, that they will run to them.
POP CULTURE REFERENCE: O’Donnell shared a pair of “memes” with the crowd, depicting his students’ likely thoughts of him during the harsh winter that saw many canceled classes. The memes gently poked fun at O’Donnell himself, who said the class loved to sleep in more than any class he’s ever worked with.
WORDS OF ADVICE: O’Donnell presented the class with three key points in which to lead their lives.
First, he suggested, was to build a life instead of a resume. If you live your life in a manor that includes hard work, honesty and an effort to live in the moment, you will build a life, not simply a resume.
Second, he advised graduates to prioritize their own learning and growth. Graduates are just scratching the surface of their learning, and he said he hoped they would approach their lives with inquiry.
Finally, inspired by a text from his mother, he reminded graduates to call their parents at least once a week, saying “There’s nobody on this planet who wants you to be as happy or successful as much as your parents.”
A MEMORY: Skylar Cressman, 18, said her fondest memories were in the Democracy in Action class taught by Andy Merritt.
“He’s a great teacher. I learned so much from him.” she said, saying Merritt would take the class on field trips to Penn State law-simulation classes where they would act as judges in a court hearing setting.
“And, of course, I’ll miss the pep rallies too,” she said.
WHAT THEY’LL MISS: The impending responsibility of being an adult was starting to become a reality for some graduates.
“I’ll miss not having all of the stresses of not being in school,” Kyle Solt, 19, said, “like paying for a car and all that stuff.”
Solt said he’ll be attending the Pennsylvania College of Technology to focus on welding.
Shailyn Furman also said she would miss not having to be an adult and the opportunity to sit around doing nothing. But she also said she would miss seeing her friends every day as well.
Furman said she’ll be attending Mansfield University in the fall.
HOW THEY FELT: Good vibes were present throughout the crowd.
“I feel great,” Will Benner, 18, said. “I feel finished. It doesn’t quite feel like I’m done yet, but it feels good.”
Benner said he’ll be attending Gettysburg College in the fall.
“Being inside was definitely overwhelming,” Raecheal Dague, 18, said of the ceremony, “but I’m feeling good and excited to be done with it.”
Dague also said she was nervous about getting out into the world on her own. She’ll be taking a phlebotomy course soon and taking her certified nursing assistant training certifications later this month.