On Friday evening, 165 members of the St. Marys Area High School Class of 2011 gathered with their family and friends in celebrating their high school career as part of the school's 115th annual commencement program.
Class President Shelby Zomcik acted as the Mistress of Ceremonies and offered brief remarks along with fellow student speakers Natalie Schwer, salutatorian, and Gianna DeMuro, valedictorian.
Students took their places onstage, where they were seated following the traditional processional into the Carpin Auditorium, with musical accompaniment provided by the SMAHS Concert Band under the direction of Chris Gankosky.
"During the last four years, many events have occurred that have continued to strengthen our bond as a class and even as an extended family," Zomcik said. "We'll remember great sports seasons and championships that we have won and occasionally lost, class trips and outside of school just hanging out with our friends. Lastly, we'll always remember Sept. 23, 2010, when our classmate and dear friend Jacob Carl Hutton was taken from us too soon. His memory will always be in our hearts."
Zomcik added that even though the graduates will go their separate ways and may not see each other as often as they have over the past four years, they will continue to have a bond that was created during those years.
"In spirit we are and always will be the St. Marys Area High School Class of 2011. We have all triumphed here and I wish you all great success and a 'happily ever after,'" Zomcik concluded.
As part of the ceremony, Schwer sang the national anthem and school alma mater, and the SMAHS Choir, under the direction of Adam Brooks, performed "This is the Time" by Billy Joel.
Joe Schlimm, assistant principal, acknowledged numerous groups of students, including those who scored proficient or advanced on the PSSA tests, senior members of the school-to-work program and members of the National Honor Society and National Technical Honor Society.
Schlimm also recognized the top 10 seniors: Gianna DeMuro, Natalie Schwer, Keith Meyer, Rebecca Arnold, Megan Barber, Jamie VanAlstine, Shanea Ehrensberger, Brittany Orr, Bradley Yetzer and Shelby Zomcik.
St. Marys Area High School Principal Dr. Josh Williams began his speech with a moment of silence in Jacob Hutton's memory. He acknowledged the efforts of teachers at both the high school and area elementary and middle schools, as well as the various efforts of school staff.
As is tradition with Williams, he directly addressed the students by offering a humorous parable of a young bird who flew south for the winter, intertwining amusing anecdotes relating to the students' relationship with their parents. His speech garnered many laughs from all in attendance.
In summing up the story, Williams noted, "Listen to your parents. They're usually right and you're usually wrong and you will find, and most of you already know this, they're some of the best people you'll ever know."
Williams said that life experiences have something to teach and he was truly amazed at what he learned from the seniors this year.
"This group has taught me about kindness and caring, what is possible when passion intersects with talent and hard work. Our kids from our school can be the best at anything in this state, in this nation or this world," Williams said. "Finally, this group has taught me about courage in the face of great tragedy. I believe in my heart of hearts you learn a lot about people when bad things happen, and what I saw here in the fall were kids who reached out to each other, supported each other and who showed a great deal of courage.
"Courage, kindness, caring and passion, these are the kind of characteristics that separate average from good and good from great. It has truly been my pleasure to spend the past four years with you, and I thank you, and congratulations," he said.