FAIRLESS HILLS >> After the global pandemic upended their senior year, a mask-wearing Class of 2021 graduated from the Falcon’s Nest on Thursday ready to take on the world.
School board President Christine Toy-Dragoni opened the ceremony under sun-drenched skies at Falcon Field to announce that the Class of 2021 has collectively been offered over $18,080,888 in scholarships over the next four years.
“You began your senior year under a cloud of uncertainty,” Toy-Dragoni told the 770 members of the Class of 2021. “You made your way through this milestone time in your life with adjustments, changes and sometime disappointment and you did it with grit, tenacity and a joyful spirit. You showed us all how to handle adversity with grace. I respect you. I congratulate you. And above all I thank you.”
Applause erupted when Toy-Dragoni acknowledged the seniors who will be entering the military service. “Thank you for your service,” she said.
After leading the flag salute, Student Government President Alexandria Snyder challenged the class to think about their legacies as they “grapple with the weight of the word and all its expectations and implications.
“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself,” said Snyder. “I challenge everyone here to lead with empathy and to walk so far in someone else’s shoes, you wear out the soles because it’s only through understanding our impact on others that we can begin to evaluate our purpose to ourselves. Let your legacy be defined by your capacity for empathy and the courage to achieve small great things.”
In his remarks, entitled “A Path of Change,” Daniel Dietrich spoke about the impact the pandemic had on the class and how it has made it stronger as it faces the future.
“The Class of 2021 has been consistently regarded as a senior year lost. But I don’t look at it this way, for we have learned more from this year than we ever imagined,” said Dietrich.
“In a year filled with isolation and doubts about the future, we came to value ourselves and prioritize the people in our lives who make us feel good,” he said. “For if this year has truly shown us anything, it is that anything can happen. Therefore, no matter what life throws our way, we must remain flexible to change.
“We must remember that even though Plan A may not work out, Plan B can be better than you ever thought it could be,” Dietrich continued. “We must always follow a path of happiness and fulfillment. We must continue to follow our dreams. And, most importantly, we must remember our roots in Falcon Field, embracing a path of change with purpose and passion.”
In his remarks entitled “Life’s A Movie,” Alvin Wang compared the high school experience to a movie and said he will be excited to see how members of the class go on to “capture the eyes of the entire world” using the knowledge and experience acquired at Pennsbury.
“While this part of our movie must come to a bittersweet end, I want you all to continue to live like you are on camera. Work hard and live to the absolute fullest. Take hold of all of your opportunities and never let anyone hold you back. Because you are the director of this life. This world is your silver screen, and we all have the resources to produce our own critically acclaimed films. I am beyond excited to see the myriad of outstanding stories and narratives that our brilliant minds will seek to develop.
“Whether these next few years will lead us to become researchers, lawyers or teachers, I know each of our lives would make an amazing cinematic experience. I know we will inspire millions,” he said.
In her remarks entitled “The Climb,” Amanda Lee shared with the class that she has grown up on stories about overcoming adversity. The stories were from her mother who left her family at the age of 14 and headed to America and her father who arrived here poor and struggled to make ends meet.
“I wanted to face challenges, too. I wanted to live through history and get the chance to tell my children all about the things I’d overcome,” said Lee upon hearing their stories of determination. “However, after living through the past year, I take it back. Please let me subscribe to a life with no challenges, no problems and definitely no global pandemic.
“But, hey, my parents are two of the strongest people I know,” said Lee. “They went through hell and back and as much as I wish they didn’t have to endure so much - they did it. If there is one thing I’ve taken away from their stories,it’s that while hard times are hard, they are also not forever.
“Challenges can’t always be avoided,” added Lee. “But this Class of 2022 has absolutely proved that we can take it, and we can continue to look to the future with our heads held high ... We will face challenges, that’s a given. We won’t always know what to do and we won’t always be prepared. This year has been a big reminder.
“Class of 2021, this has been an amazing climb,” said Lee. “As we prepare to part ways, I hope you can look back at Pennsbury and find happy memories. Take with you all the lessons learned and the friends you’ve made and never forget how much you have grown and changed.”
Superintendent Dr. William Gretzula, who will be retiring at the end of June, presided over his final graduation as superintendent offering some parting words to the class.
“When you look back on your years at PHS, I hope you take pride in knowing you have gone through some of the most challenging and innovative years in Pennsbury’s history. I speak for many when I say I am inspired by your persistence, resilience and determination,” said Gretzula. “If you continue to approach life the way you approached the past four years, and especially the past 16 months, you will surely enjoy success in life.
“But my wish for you is more than to just find success. My advice may sound too simple or naïve, but when I announced my pending retirement back in September, I started to think about what I might do next. I wrote two lists - List 1: Things that bring me joy. List 2: Things in the world that I would like to see improved. Those two lists helped me think about how I want to spend the next several years, pursuing a life of joy and passion.
“When the celebration of graduation begins to wind down,” he said, “take some time to make your lists. I believe that will put each of you on your next path to a joyful and purposeful life.”
Pennsbury High School co-principals Reggie Meadows and Lisa Becker closed the ceremony by officially presenting the Class of 2021 for graduation.
This was also Becker’s final graduation. She will be retiring from Pennsbury during the first semester of the 2021-22 school year. And Meadows took a moment to acknowledge Becker’s “long and distinguished career” at Pennsbury.
Music during the ceremony was provided by the Pennsbury High School Symohonic Band directed by Christopher Bygott and the Pennsbury High School Chamber Choir directed by Jim Moyer.