There was a lot to celebrate at the 64th Big Spring High School Commencement Friday night.
Nearly 200 graduates crossed the stage to receive their diplomas, celebrating the end of 13 years of accomplished education. For many, those 13 years were all in the Big Spring School District.
The graduating class received a school record amount of scholarships worth nearly $2.4 million to further their education over the next four years. Forty honor graduates wore gold stoles, signifying GPAs of above 4.0.
Fifteen graduates earned Distinguished Diplomas for achieving greater than 3.5 GPAs, enrolling in five AP or dual honor enrollment courses, completing an internship or capstone project and completing 150 citizenship hours.
This moment was also significant to Principal William August as the only high school class to have had him for four full years of high school.
Hannah Hess was Valedictorian with a 4.58 GPA, and Melanie Macioce was Salutatorian with a 4.54 GPA. Each were given gifts from the administration for being the top in their class.
The class was commended for their successes at the Cumberland-Perry Area Vocational Technical School, FFA and being part of nationally-affiliated honor societies. The class also raised more than $50,000 at Mini-THON for pediatric cancer patients.
More than 100 graduates will be attending two- or four-year colleges; six will attend career/technical programs; eight have joined the armed forces; and 41 will join the workforce. The eight graduates, who have already enlisted in the military, wore red, white and blue cords and received a loud applause of recognition from the audience.
Graduate Andrew Runyon was given a shout-out by August, because August had promised that he would do just that if he maintained perfect attendance throughout high school.
August delivered his promise, and announced that Runyon had maintained perfect attendance since the 6th grade. Skylar Diehl was also given recognition as the state’s best flute player from her participation in the All-State Concert Band.
As commencement speaker Rebecca Fickel put it, the graduates were celebrating each and every one of these “steps.”
Macioce put this special day as a representation of the graduates always striving toward infinity, like the function e^x.
However, as August put it, the Class of 2019 had grown comfortable again, and now they needed to move on to bigger and better things.
When it was time to be called to the stage, each member of the Class of 2019 continued the tradition of petting the Bulldog statue before receiving their diploma from Superintendent Dr. Richard Fry, and after receiving the diploma, received their class flower, a sunflower, from their classmates before departing back to their seats.
At the end of the day, the Class of 2019 proclaimed themselves to be the “Golden Class.”
In between the petting of the Bulldog statue, the class followed a longtime tradition of giving something special to Fry -- a tradition that began in Fry's first year as superintendent with the Class of 2006 when they each surprised him with a marble as they received their diploma. Since then, the graduating class has chosen some sort of trinket to give to Fry that reflects their class. Last year, all the graduates gave a pebble to Fry, except for the last three graduates. One gave a fish bowl, one had the water and the last graduate had a fish named Dog. Fry still has the fish in his office.
The Class of 2019 chose a golden nugget as their trinket to give to Fry while receiving their diplomas. Graduates followed another long-standing tradition of throwing their caps high into the night sky, and were surprised to hear fireworks booming above.
Hanna Durff, class treasurer, gave the opening remarks, and Runyon, who also serves as the senior class historian, gave the signal to the High School Band to play the National Anthem, led by Director Adam Nobile. Katelyn Cornman, class secretary, introduced each of the speakers, and the senior choir sang “Go the Distance.”
Emily Stambaugh, class vice president, recognized the leadership of the administration during her welcoming remarks, along with the understanding of the guidance staff who provided a safe haven to “assist us with our struggles and rejoice with us in our triumphs.” Stambaugh also recognized the love and perseverance of the teachers who were willing to stay the extra hour, as well as the parents and other family members, who drove them to school when they missed the bus, or found time to practice flash cards for exams.
During the ceremony, she asked all the graduates to stand from their seats, and face the families for a moment to express appreciation. Then, she asked the class to look at one another to be thankful for the lessons learned from each other. Finally, she asked the class to look at themselves for providing the self-motivation to complete the requirements in order to graduate.
During the ceremony, Fry paid tribute to the board members and members of his administration, including the late Wilbur Wolf Jr. who served as the longtime president, until his passing in late December.
Current President William Swanson explained during his remarks how Wolf’s speeches focused on a common theme: “Mr. Wolf stressed that students be involved in their communities, in some form of public service, stay close to friends and families, and be civil to others, even when you disagree.”
The class also sang the Alma Mater one last time during the ceremony.
During her speech titled, “The Next Step,” Fickel asked the class to strive for their dreams, but to enjoy all the little, countless steps along the journey. She asked the graduates to reflect on all the steps, all the way from the first steps of kindergarten “antsy, excited and youthful” to the final “leap” into high school “ready for new adventures, new friends and a new journey.”
“You see taking steps sometimes requires a leap of faith. Perhaps, that's what high school is, one big leap of faith,” she said. “We might not have known what was ahead. We might not have felt prepared. Dare I say, that sometimes we even stepped into things blindly just hoping for the best.”
She continued to list what is great about Big Spring High School. She spoke of the support during every step along the way, whether it be into the unknowns of Pre-Calculus, or the darker moments when the school lost a member of their student body.
She reflected on the exciting adventures, like the brand new football stadium that was still not big enough to contain them underneath the Friday Night Lights.
She also took the time to thank August as the first class to spend all four years with him.
“To say that you are a phenomenal principal would not be good enough,” Fickel said. “I will always remember your kind comments in the hallway, your advice during class meetings, and your eagerness to always participate in Pep Rallies, especially the basketball games. You motivated us; you guided us; and you made us laugh throughout our journey. Thank you.”
She expressed her love for the diverse nature of the class, whether it be someone who owns a barber shop or someone who is joining the military to protect their country. She continued to explain how each graduate shares one thing in common, all the teachers, administration and the parents that helped them along the way -- or the “group of people who have acted as our escalators carrying us higher to greater things when maybe we didn't have the strength to do it ourselves.”
Fickel also reflected on lots of other steps taken throughout high school, and the last week of final steps together. However, the final steps were just taken as the Class of 2019 received their diplomas, and the next steps will be taken soon, whether it be a new job, or a new journey to a college campus. For everyone, it is the next step into adulthood, she noted.
“When it gets too hard, always remember that Big Spring High School, these teachers, this community and this student body will always be your escalators, so you never have to take the next step alone.”
Shooting for infinity
Mancioce called herself a “math nerd” during her speech titled, “To Infinity and Beyond,” and noted the best way to describe the past, present and future is the function: e^x, which is the graph that grows extremely fast once 0 is plugged into the equation.
She said their time at Big Spring High School was a time for self-discovery, and now, they all have a general trajectory of what they want to do in life. She also spoke of the many opportunities in front of them at Big Spring High School, or outside the school at the Cumberland-Perry Area Vocational Technical School, and the many accomplishments on the class' resume.
“The level of possibilities presented here, are unrivaled by surrounding schools, truly no district could have provided us with a better place to find ourselves,” she said.
“Like the function, we've all grown exponentially since the day we walked into this school. We've matured, experienced valuable life lessons and solidified our morals and values. Just how e^x changes at the speed of itself, so do we. Always on our toes, always on a quest for new information,” she added.
As individuals, they are growing parallel to one of the fastest growing math functions, she said, but their “range” shouldn't stop growing after high school.
“All of us should continue self-exploration and hopefully, our limit will be infinity, too,” she noted.
She said branching out and becoming a refined, better version of yourself is the ultimate goal, and to take chances and explore beyond the one red light town.
August recognized that his first day at Big Spring High School was the first day of freshman year for these graduates, and recollected on the opening moments at the school.
“Over the course of the past four years, I've had the distinct pleasure of watching you all grow from those wide-eyed, twitchy freshmen into the mature and capable young men and women here tonight,” he said.
He said high school began with the discomfort of the unknown, and discomforts associated with aspects of high school, like success not being guaranteed.
“Being uncomfortable forced you to grow. It required you to move from a place of familiarity and security to the enhanced versions of yourself that sit here,” he said. “However, the truth is, you've become comfortable again, and it's time to move on.”
He made an analogy to cars not being meant for the garage, and ships not being meant for harbors – and ultimately, these seniors not being meant for Big Spring High School anymore.
He offered the opportunity for all of the graduates to come back to the high school at any time to rest and recharge with the Bulldog family because they will be welcomed with a huge smile, friendly handshake and sometimes a big hug.
“Class of 2019, you rocked high school. Now, go out and rock the world. Ever. Always. Strong,” August said.
Fry also passed along some messages during his address to the Class of 2019:
Never lose the energy for the learning that you had as a kindergartner.
Always be curious and ask questions that allow you to continue to grow
Be courageous. Research issues and thoughts that are important to you. He said, “You're heading into a world that is getting tougher to disagree on issues while maintaining civility and decorum. So do your homework and listen to diverse opinions. Remember it's not about who yells the loudest during thought provoking conversations, but much more about continuing to be curious and ask questions.”
Continue to grow and be a lifelong learner. That learning process allows you to make a difference in the world and have a purpose and pursue that purpose with passion.