BURGETTSTOWN - Burgettstown High School held commencement exercises for the Class of 2014 Tuesday at First Niagara Pavilion.
Sarah Smith gave the invocation, and senior class President Katrina Fleeman gave the welcome. Jacob Rozmus gave the benediction, while Principal Michael Wright presented the class to School Board President Thomas Repole.
"We are here to recognize the students, in white robes and in blue robes, who will cross this stage," Fleeman said. "Thank you for being here every day and helping us in every struggle."
ADDRESSES?CLASS — Maggie Stiffler, Burgettstown High School Class of 2014 valedictorian, addressed the class during commencement exercises Tuesday at First Niagara Pavilion. -- Summer Wallace-Minger
She thanked the graduates' families, teachers, school administrators, school police officers and support staff.
"Thank you for making the past 13 years memorable," she told her classmates. "The smiles we see from up here (on stage) are proud, and the smiles you see on this side are excited.
"Who we were yesterday doesn't determine who we are today or who we will be tomorrow," Fleeman said. "Last year, we watched the Class of 2013 as they walked across this very stage about a year ago. And when they finished crossing the stage, we were seniors."
The audience helped the graduates reach the stage, Wright said. He thanked the graduates' families and teachers.
"I have been thinking about all the times you made me smile over the past four years," Wright said. "I've often wondered what path you each would take."
He noted the students could become professionals, laborers, politicians or military members.
"Never settle for someone else's dream," he said. "Always find your own."
Success doesn't come from possessions, but from personal happiness, he told the graduates, urging them to seek out what makes them happy, even at the cost of success. They can succeed while being honorable and keeping to their personal ethical code.
"You have made it very easy to be proud of you," he said.
Valedictorian Maggie Stiffler noted that, 57 years ago, her grandmother was the Burgettstown valedictorian.
"I'm proud to follow in her footsteps," she said.
She spoke about different professions and careers and the preparation necessary, noting that, whatever the job, it is valuable.
"We all have different dreams, different aspirations, and that's what makes the world go around," she said.
Each graduate will walk their own path, but they have an unlimited number of roads from which to choose, and the graduates should slow down, enjoy the journey instead of rushing to the destination and appreciate the small things in life, she said.
She compared life to being a driver - focused on what is before you and trying to reach goals as quickly and safely as possible - or being a passenger - able to see the big picture and enjoy it.
"Don't look back on the mistakes you made here, and remember: It's not the end, it's only the beginning," she said.
Salutatorian Amanda Bernola said graduation day was a long-awaited new chapter in the graduates' lives.
"It's probably the biggest decision we've made," she said, adding all previous decisions now look small in comparison. "In a few moments, we'll no longer be high school students."
Although the graduates would meet new people and make new friends, they will always have their shared memories of their time together, she said.
"I'm ready and eager to start making new memories in the new chapter of my life," she said.
Superintendent David Palmer said the number of people in attendance demonstrated how important the exercise was to the district, community and graduates. He told the graduates that they would never be alone - if all else failed, they still had their school family and could always consider themselves Blue Devils. The graduates would face both triumph and adversity and how they handled them would shape their futures.
"Never wake up the next morning and wonder 'what if?'' he said. "Keep your head up, smile and do the best you can."
The school band performed, as did the school's chorus.