BURGETTSTOWN, Pa. - The 84 members of the Burgettstown Class of 2012 took their next steps in life Friday, transitioning from high school student to high school graduate during commencement exercises held at First Niagara Pavillion.
It was an evening of mixed emotion for the students, who are part of the 94th graduating class of the high school.
Burgettstown Principal David Palmer welcomed those gathered at the venue, saying, through the combination of hard work, dedication and support from family, students and teachers, he can see greatness ahead for the Class of 2012.
Senior class president Melissa Phillis addresses her classmates and their families during commencement exercises Friday. The Burgettstown Middle/High School Class of 2012 graduated Friday at First Niagara Pavillion. -- Craig Howell
"I can see what lays within each of you," he said. "You can accomplish any and all things you put your mind to."
Senior Class President Melissa Phillis took time to look back at the past school year.
"On the first day of school, we all realized we were seniors," she said. "What we didn't realize was how fast it would go."
Despite that, she said the class had been well prepared by their parents, teachers and friends, encouraging her fellow graduates to stay true to themselves, learn to accept failure, know they are good enough and not change for anyone while going out into the world and making a positive difference.
She encouraged her classmates to hold on to their memories, experiences and the lessons they learned during their time as Burgettstown Blue Devils.
"If you remember them, cherish them and hold them close to your heart, they will be a part of you forever," Phillis said.
One event in particular was on the minds of many of those in attendance Friday; the loss of classmate Aaron Herriott in a car accident almost one month ago.
Several of those speaking referenced the loss in their addresses, and Superintendent Deborah Jackson asked for a moment of silence in his memory.
School officials then presented Herriott's mother, Christina, with his high school diploma.
Valedictorian Matthew Tagliaferro talked about many of the accomplishments of the class, explaining during his freshman year he would have never thought being his class' top student would have been possible.
"Like everyone, I just wanted to have fun with my friends and not think too much about school," he said.
He learned to find a balance, however, as did many of his classmates and, as a result, he said he believes the Class of 2012 is one of the most accomplished seen at Burgettstown in many years. He noted the many awards and activities of the class, such as the rivalry with Fort Cherry and the "notorious" scavenger hunt, as well as its highs and lows.
"If nothing else, the Class of 2012 is always there for each other," Tagliaferro said.
Salutatorian Christin Bongiorni took a look farther back in her speech, thinking of her early days of preschool when she and another student had to be separated because the teacher felt they were creating too much of a disruption. The other student, she noted, was the class' valedictorian.
"We may not have traveled the same path, but we have reached the same destination," she said, noting they are the future.
For her part, Jackson encouraged the class to find their passion and remember from where they came, saying they will have many choices ahead of them.
"You will be defined by your passion and your character," Jackson said. "Please make us proud and congratulations."
(Howell can be contacted at email@example.com)