Parkland graduation 2021 ‘A time of reflection and joy’
By SARIT LASCHINSKY
Special to The Press
After a year of hardship and unusual circumstances, the 785 graduating members of Parkland High School’s Class of 2021 took their first steps into a new phase of life during their commencement ceremony June 8 at the PPL Center, Allentown.
More than 1,000 viewers tuned into the ceremony’s livestream and hundreds of family members and friends attended in person to watch the graduates, dressed in red and gray robes and safely masked, enter to the traditional sound of “Pomp and Circumstance.”
Assistant High School Principal Crystal George welcomed everyone to the ceremony.
“After this uncertain and challenging year we had, I am especially happy we can gather together to celebrate the Class of 2021,” George said. “Tonight’s ceremony is a time of reflection and joy.”
Under the direction of Allison Figueroa, the high school band then performed the alma mater and national anthem.
Class of 2021 President Kyleigh Duff then came forward for the class key presentation.
“For a while, I’ve been looking for the right way to start this speech, and continue it and end it, and basically how to write the entire thing,” she said.
“Every time I went to write this the beginning seemed too cheesy, or too sad, or overly cheery for what this year has been.”
Duff acknowledged the year had been different and difficult for students, noting some classmates had never set foot in the high school building.
“So it is strange to think that we won’t again, not as students at least,” Duff said. “But I know when we look back at our years at Parkland, we won’t think of the early morning Zooms we zoned out of.
She mentioned memories of elementary pajama days, middle school schedules and dances, sporting events or club meetings.
“High school is over, but the friendships and memories don’t have to be,” Duff said. “We’re all heading on our next journey, wherever that may take us, and soon high school and the people we met along the way will feel like a distant memory.”
“Thank you, Parkland for shaping us into who we are today; the good, and the bad, made us find ourselves,” Duff said before presenting the class key to Hana Yang, Class of 2022 president.
Yang thanked Duff for being a powerful role model, congratulated the graduates and said the Class of 2022 would make them proud to be Parkland alumni.
Under the direction of Francis Anonia, a musical selection of “Found/Tonight (Our Time)” was then performed by senior chorale members Catharine Aboulhouda, Emily Babinchak, Alyssa Cahill, Zachary Evans, Brycen Geiger, Paige Herman, Amanda Lane, Robert Moore, Luke Saad, Carter Sachse, Taylor Shortell, Lydia Walker and Michaiah Watkins.
Senior speaker Prathysha Kothare opened her speech by thanking and welcoming all “for a night of celebration, reflection, and new beginnings most of us here never thought we’d get the chance to share.
“Tonight marks the 450th day since I like many others here tonight walked through Parkland’s familiar halls hearing rumors about school closings with what was then an ignorant excitement for a few days off. But 450 days is a long time,” she said. “[I am supposed to] galvanize you with perspectives on what we have learned, and how we have grown through the force majeure of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
First, however, she acknowledged the loss and sacrifice of the community, and the definition of resiliency “by the pain we carry that inspires us toward reform.
“Some 3.39 million people around the world have lost their lives to the virus. In this stadium itself, seats are unoccupied where proud relatives would have sat to commemorate your dedication to education.
“This moment goes out to those we have lost, those who are grieving from loss, and those who have risked their lives to prevent loss,” Kothare said.
She said over the past 15 months, the so-called “largest social experiment of all time,” lives and entrenched patters were undone, allowing people to develop themselves.
“Let us not forget, however, the beauty of these reflections, for we found our individuality and we ran with it,” Kothare said, noting that graduates developed apps, wrote books, started businesses, organized humanitarian initiatives, and started virtual advocacy networks among other accomplishments.
George and Superintendent Richard Sniscak then recognized National Honor Society winners, as well as the students graduating with honors in the top 3 percent of the class.
Sniscak congratulated the class and wished them well.
“High school graduation is a major turning point in life,” Sniscak said. “It marks the end of an important phase and the dawn of a new, and important, era.”
He said the graduates possess diverse talents and skills, and had demonstrated resiliency, flexibility and perseverance in addressing the challenges of the pandemics, bringing pride and honor to Parkland.
He encouraged students to choose wisely and capitalize on the many choices and opportunities which come their way, in pursuit of their individual destinies.
Next, high school Principal James Moniz II paid tribute to retiring staff members who he said had spend 270 years educating students across six decades of service.
Retirees were Administrative Assistant Randy Hanna, Family Consumer Science teacher Donna Robertson, custodian David Loch, English and theater arts teacher Elizabeth Smith, Latin teacher Mary Redline, social studies teacher David Martin, technology education teacher James Kester and art teacher Richard Shemonsky.
Moniz also recognized the retirement of three administration members - Director of Business Administration John Vignone, Assistant to the Superintendent for Operations Tracy Smith and Sniscak - and offered all retirees a heartfelt congratulation and best wishes.
School board President David Hein accepted the Class of 2021 on the board’s behalf and congratulated the graduates.
“The 2019-20 school year was one like no other in recent history, and the 2020-21 school year continued that tradition,” he said. “There was synchronous, asynchronous, Zoom, hybrid, hand sanitizer, daily health forms and the dreaded COVID letters but we made it through; you made it through.”
Hein said the students had stood fast, handled small sacrifices like hybrid learning, loss of traditional events, masking and social distancing in the name of safety, “and what matters is you are here tonight; you’ve persevered, you’ve done your best, you’ve already succeeded.”
He asked that students take each day as a learning experience, help one another and lead by example to make the world a better place, and concluded with two quotes.
The first if from an unknown speaker, “Fate whispers to the warrior ‘you cannot withstand the coming storm;’ the warrior whispers back, ‘I am the storm.’”
The second quote came from Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
Hein and Sniscak then distributed the diplomas to the graduates, and after the final diploma was presented, Moniz addressed the class one final time.
“Class of 2021, you now have your diplomas; you are now graduates of Parkland High School,” he announced to a roaring crowd and a flurry of flying caps.
Moniz told the graduates it was an honor to have been their principal and said after the past 15 months, “you should certainly be proud of what you’ve accomplished, proud of what you’ve learned and what you’ve overcome.
“By persevering through this pandemic, whether you realize it or not, you’re more knowledgeable about your tendencies, your abilities, your skills and maybe most importantly you’re more knowledgeable about yourself, more than any other graduate that I’ve spoken to at a ceremony like this.”
Moniz concluded by saying the new graduates had overcome a “major emotional life hurdle” and came out stronger.
“I have no doubt that the Class of 2021 will continue to demonstrate excellence in all your career paths and look forward to hearing about all the future ways you will make Parkland proud,” he said before the class departed to the traditional recessional march “Sino Nomine.”
The virtual stream of the commencement ceremony is available at vimeo.com/560472041.