Schuylkill Valley Area High School parents, teachers and administration applauded as 134 seniors became 2019 graduates during Commence on June 7.

Schuylkill Valley High School Principal Michael Mitchell Jr. watched the Class of 2019 grow from energetic 5th graders to high school graduates in a few short minutes, he said.

“While you strove to do your best in academics, athletics, the arts and service … the most fitting word I have to describe you as a class is ‘accepting.’ As a whole, you accepted all of your classmates,” said Mitchell. “Everyone seemed to know each other and hang out together. More importantly, you respected one another as people and it showed in your interactions with each other.”

This was evident during Senior Prom, when the entire class danced together from start to finish, rather than in clicks or segmented groups.

“Come one, come all, that’s been your motto. Throughout your years, you’ve accepted everyone for who he or she is, and I will never forget the tolerance and graciousness of this class,” said Mitchell.

Offering advice, he said, “Men and women who accomplish extraordinary things are simply ordinary people who are able to overcome the obstacles that stand in their way. They persevere until what they actually visualize and believe what will happen, actually does happen. Anything and all that you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon, making the wisest decisions you can every day, will come to pass.”

He told the Class of 2019 to believe in themselves, expect the best, and shrug off the short-term obstacles and setbacks.

“You will learn that those setbacks are unfortunate but inevitable steps on your journey toward your goals.”

“Whatever it is you want to do in life, do it; don’t limit your thinking,” said Mitchell. “Class of 2019, continue to be accepting of others as you have at Schuylkill Valley. Set goals for yourself that are not limiting, believe you can achieve them, set a plan to achieve them and stop at nothing to accomplish them.”

Salutatorian Katelyn VanderSleen, a competitive swimmer for 14 years, thinks of life in terms of laps.

“Every lap leading up to this moment has been more significant than graduation itself. We embrace the opportunity of every lap and the race goes on. To the Class of 2019, I offer you congratulations. You have finished this phase of the race. Best times, personal records and finishing first do not matter. All you needed to do was finish and you have,” said VanderSleen. “However, graduation is not just the end of one phase; it is the start of another as well. It is the beginning of your journey throughout life.”

VanderSleen said their lives up until this point have been filled with “have-to’s.”

“When you look at a task as something you want to do, rather than something you have to do, the overall experience is more fulfilling. I hope you are all excited about what you are doing after tonight. I hope you have decided to go to college, to enter the workforce, join the military or go to trade school because you want to, not because you have to.”

Valedictorian Lily Whitmoyer also offered her fellow graduates advice, “We should not fear failure; we should fear staying stagnant. Failing, like success, leads to growth. However, staying where we feel comfortable and safe is not where we learn and grow.”

Whitmoyer said there is much in this world they cannot control, so they should focus on what they can control.

“We cannot control how our friends and peers conduct themselves, but we can control how we react. We cannot control that people have differing opinions, but we can control how we respect them despite our differences. We cannot control how people label us, but we can control how we do and don’t label others… Each day we can make the decision to take responsibility for our actions and our treatment of others,” she said. “As we officially end this part of our lives, now is the perfect time for us to adjust our thoughts and actions before our actions impact people outside our small school.”

Whitmoyer told the Class of 2019 to never forget Schuylkill Valley. “Cherish the memories you made here but make every current moment meaningful. Move on but don’t act like high school never happened. The past matters. Use the foundation that SV has given you to build your future.”

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Lisa Mitchell is an editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers, covering news and events in the Northeast Berks County area.

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