Something changed for 62 students Thursday.
They each became South Hills School of Business and Technology graduates when they walked across a stage at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel, received their degrees and diplomas and turned their tassels.
Some things never change, though, like founder Maralyn Mazza congratulating and taking a picture with each graduate on stage after they received their diploma. She has done it for 45 years and with more than 7,000 students.
“When I say this was the joy of our lives, watching you head into your lives, I really mean it,” Mazza said. “It’s not something I’m making up. That was what (my husband Paul) and I lived for.”
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Keynote speaker Lori Watson, a 2000 graduate and executive administrator at Surgical Specialists of Lancaster PC, tried to put the graduates’ next few years in perspective.
She asked graduates to set goals based on where they saw themselves in 10 years, how they thought they could get there and what would be next.
“Goals provide you with a sense of meaning and purpose,” Watson said. “If you challenge yourself and strive to be the best, I promise someone will notice.”
Cristy Murray, the lone student speaker of the graduation ceremony, similarly asked her peers to revel in their graduation, but also have an eye on the future.
“Today marks the culmination of years of hard work, dedication, sweat and possibly some tears,” Murray said. “Today is also the day we must turn our attention to the future and focus on the challenges that lie ahead. ... We’ve already taken the first steps by making it to this ceremony today. Now, it’s time to take the next steps in our journeys.”
Their journeys, however, are shared by others.
About 1,000 family members and friends were in attendance, like those of graduate Tammy Swartz, who cheered her on as she walked across the stage.
“It was last minute that we all decided to be as loud as we could,” Swartz’s friend Char Moyer said. “We wanted to show how much we love and appreciate her and how proud we are of her. We wanted to make it a moment she wouldn’t forget.”
Other moments were more subtle like when John Hill III embraced his daughter Vanessa Hill after the ceremony.
He hugged her and didn’t let go for nearly a minute.
“I’m ecstatic,” John Hill III said. “She stuck with it, hung in there and accomplished her goal, which is what this is all about.”
Vanessa Hill, who works at a security firm and graduated with a degree in criminal justice, said her next goal is to open a resource center for underprivileged children and families in State College.
“Everyone needs a safety net, and I want to create that for them,” she said.
Some things like the love, support and safety net friends and family provide never change.
“Without them I wouldn’t be here or where I’m going,” Vanessa Hill said. “If you have people there for you, you can do anything.”