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Tulpehocken Valedictorian: ‘We are the phoenix’

Cap and gowns set on chairs in memory of seniors Sean Orner, Shanon Althouse, and teacher Carl Wolf

By Lisa Mitchell, The Kutztown Area Patriot

Friday, June 8, 2018

Tulpehocken High School Valedictorian Coty Emerich told the packed stadium of family, friends, teachers and community members, during Commencement on June 6, that the biggest lesson that the Class of 2018 has learned is the importance of resiliency.

“This year we lost two pieces of our puzzle, Sean Orner and Shanon Althouse and a beloved teacher Carl Wolf.”

He said they miss Sean’s burn outs, Shanon’s smile and Mr. Wolf greeting them with a welcome smile and his famous Hawaiian shirts. Their loss sent the community in shock and despair, they have touched so many lives, he said.

“Their spirits will remain alive in all of us,” he said. “We are the phoenix. The tragedies we have endured this year with the loss of our classmates and teacher have been redefining life moments for all of us.”

They came together to support one another and “rise from our ashes and have come back stronger and more resilient. Everyday we embrace the phoenix that we have become, the more unstoppable we will be in the face of adversity.”

He quoted Charles Darwin stating that it is not the strongest or the most intelligent of the species that survivor, but the one most responsive to change.

“I know that we all have great talent and potential but it is important that we learn to respond positively to challenging events and unexpected changes. The ability to respond quickly and without hesitation to change in the future will be very beneficial as we start the next chapter of our lives.”

Salutatorian Rachel Loose said that while their community may be small, everyone steps forward and offers support in a time of need. She advised her fellow graduates to continue to support one another in the next phase of life.

Wishing her classmates success and happiness, she said, “As we venture out into the next chapter of our lives, I encourage you to hold onto the memories you made, create and hold onto friendships and take opportunities that will lead to your success… Fellow classmates, as we continue our journey of life, be curious and take new paths that will lead to your goals.”

Class President Rebecca Burns also spoke, telling the graduates to show that even a small school like Tulpehocken can produce young adults that are capable of impacting society in a positive way.

“We will all be forced to make new and difficult decisions. Here’s my message to you. Do not hold yourself back, just because you are afraid. I am not telling you to jump into a tank full of sharks just because you are afraid of sharks, that’s crazy. However, I am advocating that you should not close doors before they are even open. Take a leap of faith because I believe that people who step out of their comfort zone are the people who grow and live interesting lives. Occasionally, life will throw you a curve ball, but take a swing at it anyway. And if you miss, tip your hat and say, ‘Nice pitch.’ Then, get back out there and start swinging again.”

She said it is easy to become overwhelmed when making decisions so take a moment to look at the bigger picture.

“Class of 2018, what would you do if you were not afraid?”

After the presentation of diplomas, Interim Principal Denis Quirk offered closing remarks. “This year has been filled with many challenges. There have been many changes and many tragedies.”

He took a moment for everyone to come together in unity to honor, reflect and celebrate Orner, Althouse and Wolf. To honor them, there were three chairs with cap and gown to symbolize there presence there at graduation.

“Although they have not been able to physically be present for this celebration, their spirit and contribution to helping to develop the members in this stadium will carry on for a life time. I ask in their memory that we keep them in our thoughts as we reflect on this challenging year and once again together as one, as we look to grow, grow from these challenges and become a stronger community.”

He said the trick to succeeding in life is not about the type of challenges we face. While you can’t control what circumstances come your way, you can control your attitude and your effort, he said.

“If you want to be successful, Class of 2018, you can’t just sit back and wait for opportunity to come your way… you can’t wait for good things to happen,” he said. “You need to intentionally and tenaciously go after it… We have the ability to achieve great things if at first we expect it of ourselves and second, believe that it can happen.”