By Jim Davidheiser

Times Writer

At 6:57 p.m. on June 6, the bells tolled on the Oley Valley High School soccer field. Shortly thereafter, a crowd estimated at 3,500 stood as the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance" signaled the beginning Oley Valley High School's 100th annual commencement.

With the late-spring sun serving as the spotlight, some 156 graduates of the class of 2006 marched in for the centennial commemoration of graduation.

Parents and grandparents smiled and cried, teachers and administrators beamed, and a host of Oley Valley alumni paused to remember. Norman Rockwell would have delighted in this authentic scene of Americana.

"This night will be remembered by the whole community," Class of 2006 vice president Kaitlyn Boyer said in her welcoming segment.

With the sports scoreboard displaying "2006" and "Period 1" - perhaps a reminder to graduates that commencement signals a beginning - Oley Valley School District Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Zackon captured the evening's tone of collective pride and excitement.

"I've watched many of you over the last four years. You have helped to set a new standard of achievement," Zackon said.

The superintendent also expressed thanks to the students' parents and guardians "for your ongoing support and encouragement."

Zackon recounted some of the historical highlights of the past 100 years: The first graduating class in 1907; the first school bus fleet (two buses) in 1930 (today's fleet numbers 21 vehicles); the first Future Farmers of America chapter in 1932; the first motion picture projector in a classroom in 1945; the start of the Oley Valley Fair in 1946; and the first class to graduate from the new high school in 1963.

The superintendent reminded the graduates of some simple, yet profound, hints from "All I Need To Know, I Learned In Kindergarten." Among them were sharing, playing fair, cleaning up your messes, saying you're sorry and living a balanced life.

Zackon made special note of the outstanding contributions of two former superintendents - Dr. Paul Flamm and Robert Lesko.

During her speech entitled "A Time to Move Forward," Third Honors graduate Jessica McNally said, "We've picked apples, modeled clothing, set up for the Oley Fair and cooked chicken pot pie. We've all worked so hard, and we cherish the time spent with our classmates. Now we must move forward, knowing that our time here has not been wasted. We can finally call ourselves graduates."

Salutatorian Amanda Smith titled her address, "Everything I Need to Know, I Learned at Oley Valley." Smith said, "We should reflect on what we have learned here, and tolerance is one of the most important things. It is impossible to control the behavior of others. Keeping a sense of humor is vital. We have acquired much knowledge, and we also know that next year we will return to our humble beginnings.

"Remembering the lessons we have learned will help us to improve the lives of others, just as the Oley Valley teachers have done for us," Smith said.

Valedictorian Rebecca Eddinger, in her speech entitled "Discovering Direction," said, "Our [future] decisions are not easy ones. We will learn new things about ourselves. Tonight is the culmination of all that we have done here.

"Once we leave the comforting walls of Oley Valley High School, we will create our own direction, our own journey. Our experiences have shaped us in many ways. Class of 2006, where do you want to get to?" Eddinger said.

Keynote speaker Wayne Weidner, a 1960 Oley Valley graduate and the chairman and chief executive officer of National Penn Bancshares, described the occasion as a "truly special event." He added, "It is an honor and a privilege to return to my alma mater."

Oley Valley School Board President Robert Heckman described the commencement as "the type of compensation we as board members really appreciate." Heckman continued, "Thanks to all of the parents and guardians for your endless hours of support and volunteering. Thanks to the administration for all your support. Oley Valley education is really a process."

Heckman went on to express appreciation "to all who worked so hard on the huge 100th anniversary celebration. Oley is a truly unique educational environment."

And he urged the new graduates to "return and tell us how we can improve things for the future."

Others who played major roles in the commencement ceremonies included band director Mark Brumbach, assistant district Superintendent Dr. Linda Stubits, high school Principal Darrell Markley, class president Samantha Swavely, Oley Valley Education Association President Heidemarie Pennypacker and 2007 class president Caitlin Herb.

At the conclusion of the event, various displays were on exhibit for the thousands in attendance. Hundreds of photos, an "Artist in Residence" mural, a "Time Capsule" and a "Decade Collage" were among the highlights. And copies of the just-published "Oley Valley 100th Graduation Anniversary" booklet were available for purchase. A major fireworks display served as the concluding element.

Jim Davidheiser is a freelance contributor to The Boyertown Area Times/Berks-Mont Newspapers. E-mail comments to jhdcom@comcast.net.

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