‘A life of bold choices’
“This was not the year you wanted,” said Carise Comstock.
It is a widely held sentiment that permeated the 17th graduation ceremony of the Lehigh Valley Charter HS for the Arts, held virtually July 30. Though longtime friends weren’t able to comfort one another in person, several speakers shared their thoughts and experiences via pre-recorded messages interspersed with musical performances highlighting photos from earlier in the year.
Comstock, Charter Arts’ president and CEO, listed happy memories of their years at the school in a two-minute rhyme, as is her custom. “The thing we want to do now is celebrate you. The memories are too many, it’s hard to keep track, but I know that they are fond if we just take a look back.”
She also noted how things have so drastically changed in a few short months, while encouraging the graduates not to be stymied by today’s unusual challenges. “’Life is like improv, said Stephen Colbert, ‘it will be what you make it so take on every dare.’ Take nothing for granted, make the most of it all, when someone asks for your help, always answer the call.”
Board President Mario Acerra said he admires the graduates’ spirit and dedication to the arts in an era when such classes are vanishing from many schools, and said he’d used his forced downtime to watch a pair of films on the incomparable Fred Rogers. He ended with a quote from the respected children’s entertainer. “Even though his audience was children, I think he had a lot of advice for all of us. ‘From the time you were very little, you’ve had people who have smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving. They’ve always cared about you and have encouraged you to be true to the best within you. ’
“I’d like us to take a moment to think about who those people were in your life, especially those who helped you through this recent challenge.”
Diane LaBelle said, “When I knew I would be retiring as the CEO and executive director this year, I never dreamed I would be saying goodbye to you via virtual graduation speech being recorded in the theater. But none of us could have foreseen the impact that this pandemic has had on all of you: The performances you’ve missed, your prom, a virtual graduation.
“Every class of graduating seniors has challenges. Members of every class meet those challenges and grow because of them. You have witnessed experiences that nobody could have predicted, but your resilience, your passion and your talent have and will continue to guide your paths.
“In my 10 years at Charter Arts, the thing that still astounds me is how much I have learned from all of you, and continue to learn as you prepare for your future. One of the biggest things is your courage,” she said, explaining the very act of leaving their local schools after eighth grade was a brave choice to begin with, and courage in making difficult decisions will help determine the future.
“The choice to come here was a truly courageous act. It prepared you for a life of bold choices.”
Class speaker Emma Scott expressed the same inspiration.
“The future is often talked about as something like a philosophical enigma. What no one seems to tell you, though, is that the future is something we largely control. Class of 2020, we are standing on the precipice of the unknown. The actions we partake in now will dictate what lies ahead. The future is much more malleable than we think, and we have the power to mold it.”
Scott said all the little events and stumbles are the building blocks that allow us to build a better future, and that graduation is about applying what you’ve learned to better yourself.
“My teachers taught me the importance of change, if it’s scary at times, and my classmates taught me that we must educate ourselves on issues that may not even directly affect us. For the good of humanity, now is not the time for ‘ignorance is bliss.’
“Art will act as our vehicle to move forward and to improve. We will fulfill the true definition of graduation.”