EAST PENN SCHOOL DISTRICT Emmaus High School graduates celebrate
High school graduation is a big deal and for Emmaus High School’s Class of 2020 it finally arrived. Although the pandemic has required the cessation of large group gatherings, causes for celebration remain. Successfully completing one’s secondary education is a major accomplishment. Due to COVID-19, planning this year’s commencement required creativity and innovation.
Earlier this summer, graduate recognition lawn signs which families obtained through the East Penn Education Foundation began popping up throughout the district.
Counselors, administrators, teachers, coaches and staff expressed the fond farewells they could not give in person via an online video montage. The speakers offered words of wisdom, inspiration and humor; their affection for and pride in the seniors comprising the Class of 2020 is warm and genuine.
During her message, Coach Kelly Bracetty said, “You either win or you learn.” In the current situation, everyone is learning new ways to create memorable experiences.
From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 25, the main parking lot of EHS was the setting for a drive-up graduation. Approximately 460 graduates and their families participated. Cars, some adorned with streamers, metallic fringes and/or balloons lined up in the EHS main parking lot.
At the first canopy, the graduating seniors disembarked and checked in. Wearing the traditional green caps and gowns of EHS, they waited for their names to be announced, walked across the stage and accepted their diplomas. Music provided by Wesley Works played; families and friends cheered and cameras recorded the moment.
As a bonus, members of the Class of 1970 provided a special tribute. Normally, the class celebrating its 50th reunion is honored at the current graduation. Reunion plans for the Class of 1970 have been canceled. In a generous show of support for the 2020 graduates, members of the Class of 1970s reunion committee attended the drive-up ceremony. As stated by Patricia Weldon, reunion committee member, “We feel that this is a way to recognize the graduating seniors who lost out on … events that would have capped their senior year … our motto is ‘Seniors Honoring Seniors.’”
On July 26, the festivities resumed. The first ever EHS virtual graduation incorporated all the facets of a traditional graduation with a few twists. The opening collection of images combined meaningful moments from the Class of 2020’s senior year with pictures of abandoned school sites that pre-pandemic would have been filled with student activity.
EHS Principal Dr. Kate Kieres presided over the ceremony. Kieres opened by praising the Class of 2020 for handling the drastic changes resulting from the pandemic with “dignity, grace and fortitude.” She also thanked the Class of 1970 who marked their 50th graduation anniversary by donating $8,000 to the school’s Angel Network, an organization that provides assistance to those in need throughout the school district. Kieres also requested everyone participate in a moment of silence in memory of Dimitri Garcia, member of the Class of 2020 who died July 5. She described Garcia as a “caring friend, classmate and teammate.”
Senior Class President Mark Magee then addressed the class. He devoted the main body of his speech to serious social issues including the need for equality of opportunity and the need to eradicate systemic racism. He advised his audience to be independent thinkers and to make decisions that “you would be proud to tell your kids about.”
Magee’s presentation was followed by the announcement of the Class of 2020 recipient of the Dr. Herman Corradetti Academic Hall of Fame Award. The faculty determines the recipient of this honor. Nominees are evaluated in the areas of scholarship, leadership, service and volunteerism. This year’s winner is Fionnuir Muirenn Ni Chochlain.
Throughout the remainder of the ceremony, the speeches of four graduating seniors were incorporated into the presentation of the names and photographs of individual graduates.
National Honor Society President Benjamin Shimer provided insight into the learning that takes place beyond the books, tests and papers. He explained that although students “ … come to high school to learn … the learning [goes] far beyond academics.” Shimer stressed the most important lessons are delivered through relationships. He then listed three concepts he would like his audience to remember: the importance of simple acts of kindness, the significance of collaboration and communication in creating compromise and the ability of every individual to influence the world in a positive way.
Winners of the annual graduation speech contest gave the next three presentations.
Kathleen Taranto offered an “Historical Timeline of a 2020 Graduate.” She reminded her classmates this is the first high school graduation class born after Sept. 11, 2001. As such, these young people have matured in a world constantly undergoing dramatic changes. They are technologically savvy and have experienced what she referred to as a “Milky Way of unique moments.” They are resilient. Facing this next chapter in their lives, Taranto described herself and her peers as “stronger, smarter and kinder people” for having adapted so well and so often.
Ishaan Lal gave an “Ode to the Class of 2020.” Cleverly developed with rhythm and rhyme, Lal’s speech chronicled the ups and downs of the high school experience and the speed at which a student travels from ninth grader to graduate. He thanked those who helped him reach this turning point and views the future as a time to create a positive legacy. As stated in the closing lines of his poem, “And though we all may make our own small step for man, do bear in mind, it is our responsibility to make the giant leap for mankind.”
Stephania Schoen delivered the final speech of the day entitled “Show Love.” She opened by encouraging her fellow graduates to thank those who have helped them reach this commencement. Her personal thanks went to Austin Perine, aka President Austin, of Birmingham, Ala. President Austin is the superhero title of a six-year-old boy whom Schoen says she wants to be when she grows up.
At the age of four, Perine learned about the plight of the homeless. Inspired to make a difference, Perine sold his toys, donated his allowance and began a campaign to help the homeless. In order to “be our best selves” Schoen encouraged her listeners to take off the masks they have worn in high school. Fully aware of the impact of the pandemic on the class’s expectations, she pointed out despite disappointments, this group of graduates has the chance to “ … make our world what it can and should be.” According to Schoen, “We aren’t missing out on what’s important because we are what’s important.”
School Board President Dr. Kenneth Bacher then pronounced the Class of 2020 graduated and the program ended with a slideshow of the graduates through the grades created by the Class of 2020 historians.