Family, friends and community members lined Main Street, cheering for the nearly 100 Kutztown Area High School graduates on their way to receive their diplomas on June 4.
During the outdoor commencement ceremony held in the school stadium, Class President Trenton Delp congratulated the Class of 2021 for all of their hard work and accomplishments.
“Due to many circumstances, this year was far from normal. It was not easy and took grit as well as adaptation from everyone," said Delp. “I am proud of each one of you sitting here now. Your hard work has not been overlooked. You all earned your positions out here today.”
“This is not the end for us, rather it is the start of a new chapter in our lives,” he concluded. “I can’t wait to see what the future holds for each one of you.”
Salutatorian Marina Schnell wrote a letter to the school building, sharing memories within its walls.
“Last year, when we left so suddenly, none of us realized we would be gone for so long or we would have warned you. Classes weren’t the same without you,” said Schnell. “Still we knew you’d be there waiting when we could return.”
“But now I need to leave, this time for real. I am ready,” she continued, acknowledging the students and teachers she will be leaving as well. “Thank you. You are the best part of this school district.”
Schnell used part of her speech as a platform to discuss community issues, including the proposed Maxatawny warehouse, anxiety and depression caused by the pressure on students to achieve highly in school, climate change, systemic racism, and LGBTQ issues.
“As graduates, these are things that we will have to face. We already do,” said Schnell. “I’ve spent the last four years too focused on school to engage in these issues in a significant way… Know this, I am paying attention.”
To her fellow graduates, Schnell said, “I hope you are paying attention, too, because someday soon, we will be in charge.”
Reflecting on the past four years, Valedictorian Lauren Clymer said one lesson stood out for her, the importance of perseverance in striving to achieve their goals. They adapted to virtual learning, social distancing, Zoom, modified sports and extracurricular activities, online performances and competitions, and connecting with friends and family over the Internet.
“Through all of this, we persevered. It would have been easy to simply skip certain events but instead all of us adapted to make what we wanted out of this year,” said Clymer. “With that adaptation, we found success.”
Having the strength to stay the course will help them not only survive, but thrive in challenging situations like those of this last year, said Clymer.
“This year has shown all of us that we can face our challenges and achieve our goals in spite of them,” she said.
Commencement speaker Chef Erik Oberholtzer, co-founder of the restaurant chain Tender Greens who was selected by the Kutztown Area School District Education Foundation as the 2021 Distinguished Alumni of the Year, shared how he wanted to do something meaningful after graduating from Kutztown in 1986.
“Some of you have achieved great things already. Others might be grateful just to be here. Some of you will take some time to figure it out. But I stand in front of you today as an example of someone who was not particularly exceptional when I graduated from Kutztown,” said Oberholtzer. “I was so inspired today ... (visiting the ag department) where there is this amazing energy, this potential for innovation to feed the community, to feed the world…" and then visiting the shop “where the next generation of makers and masters will come out of.”
For those going off to college in the arts and sciences, question everything and gobble up knowledge, and for the creatives, use the arts to connect with the world, he said.
“It’s true. You will be in charge. You are the next generation,” said Oberholtzer. “The key is to look at the world, connect with something that needs a little love, a little attention and somehow stir something in your belly. When you can find purpose that is connected to your passion, then you can wake up every day focused on that.”
“Make the world a better place,” he concluded.