MCDONALD, Pa. - The Fort Cherry High School Class of 2013 held commencement exercises Friday in the high school's gymnasium.
Class President Ian Lodge gave the welcome, speaking about the uniqueness of his classmates and the importance of quality over quantity.
"It is not the quantity of memories we've amassed, but the quality of the memories," he said. "This is to us, the Class of 2013, and all our accomplishments."
GRADUATION DAY — Rebekah Welesko, Fort Cherry High School Class of 2013 valedictorian, addresses the class during commencement exercises Friday at the high school. -- Summer Wallace-Minger
Valedictorian Rebekah Welesko gave a speech, comparing herself and her classmates to the character of Alice in "Alice in Wonderland," remarking, like Alice, she and her classmates have spent the past four years figuring out who they were.
"Today ceremoniously marks the end of the first act of our lives," she said.
Welesko said the graduates would wake the next day as new people, ready to begin the second act of their lives. Like Alice, they would sometimes find themselves confused, lost and only wanting to go home.
"I ask you to stop. Think. Breathe," she said. "Realize that you are home, you have always been home and will always be home - it isn't a place, but a feeling."
Welesko described the feeling of home as a loved one's voice on the telephone or a care package.
"Although we say goodbye today, we will never truly leave one another," she said. "We still have each other in our hearts and our memories."
She advised her classmates to cherish the time they had spent together.
"Hold it close to your heart, and you can never be lost or alone," she said.
After spending high school learning who they were and making decisions about what they wanted to do with their lives, Welesko told her classmates they would change their minds again and again as they learned more about themselves.
"It's OK to change your mind," she said. "We are all puzzles, and we will spend our lives trying to put ourselves together and finding new pieces every day."
Welesko asked her classmates to trust their hearts and their instincts to lead them into the best possible relationships and experiences and understand they had to leave their comfort zones to find themselves.
"As we part, I ask you this: Be true to yourselves, find something you love and never let it go, create a life for yourself that you will be satisfied with 40 years from now, and, sometimes, look back on us and reflect," she said.
Salutatorian Riley Sember also addressed the class and thanked all those who had gathered to celebrate commencement.
He predicted that the class would see its share of adversity, but would rise to the challenge.
"We're going to make mistakes, and we'll be stronger for it," he said, suggesting his classmates remember all that they have already accomplished when faced with difficulties.
Sember reminisced about all the class had shared, including trips, dances and sports events and spoke about all the "lasts" the class experienced.
"It didn't hit me until the senior banquet," he said. "I couldn't wait to graduate, then I realized this is all I've known over the past 13 years.
"As we say goodbye, I want you to know one thing: Even though we won't see each other every day, you will still be in my thoughts."
Class Vice President David Randour gave the farewell.
"This isn't saying goodbye forever, but thank you for all the great years you've given me and we've given to each other," he said.
Superintendent Robert Dinnen thanked the school board, faculty, administration and families for their support of the class, which he said was one of the brightest and most talented the school had produced.
"When you walk out of here, it's all your time, and there's two things to spend your time on - passion and obligation," said Dinnen. "It was our obligation to see you educated, but it was our passion to see you through to adulthood - to build your minds, build your bodies and build your characters."
Principal Robert Frioni certified the class and presented it to the board and audience. James White, board president, presented the diplomas. Class Treasurer Jacob Colega presented the class gift.
The Ranger Concert Band performed "Pomp and Circumstance" for the processional and recessional, and the Fort Cherry Chorus performed "Halls of Ivy" and "For Good."
(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)