Johnstown High School graduating Class of 2019 told to learn, live, hope with hard work, optimism

Graduate Augustus D’Amore, right, receives his diploma as part of the conclusion of the Johnstown High School commencement Saturday at Knox Field. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Class of 2019 student leaders spread optimism and delivered “thank yous” to many people who have shaped their lives at the 138th Johnstown High School commencement ceremony Saturday morning at Knox Field.

A total of 136 graduates received diplomas from Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Patricia Kilburn, Johnstown High School Principal Scott Hale, Assistant Principal Christina Lais and outgoing Board of Education President Kathy Dougherty. Overcast skies shadowed the purple and gold proceedings, although threatened rain never materialized.

Valedictorian Emily Wheelis, who will be studying integrative neuroscience in the fall at SUNY Binghamton, quoted celebrated genius Albert Einstein: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”

But Wheelis’ speech mostly centered on hard work and optimism for the future.

“Today, I stand before you as the valedictorian,” she said. “I have gotten here through hard work and determination. I stand before you as the best version of myself that I can be. And so do my classmates; this is the end of the beginning of our lives. The present is the most important part of life, because if we do not live in it, where do we live, and what’s the point? To truly enjoy life, we have to be able to enjoy the small moments. We have to appreciate little things like kind smiles and warm hugs and matching underwear and every other insignificant joy.”

The valedictorian added, “I have definitely made my share of mistakes over the years, as I know everyone else has too. Luckily, we live in Johnstown, where only everyone will know about it forever. Thankfully, even the worst mistakes will just be a funny story in 10 years. Johnstown, both the larger community and the high school, have taught us all something important. And not just academia, and not the same lesson for everyone. I’ve learned about interaction and community, about courage and hope.”

Salutatorian Rachel Lee, headed to SUNY Cortland for early childhood and childhood education studies, told her 2019 classmates, “I would like to take this time to thank all the people that helped get us here. First I would like to thank all of our families. Thank you for putting up with our constant complaining about homework and always showing your non-stop support for us during the school year.”

Lee added, “Teachers, thank you for pushing us to do our best. You saw the best in us and knew what we were capable of. You made sure that we felt comfortable in our learning community and we cannot thank you enough.”

She also thanked her friends “for making high school one of the most enjoyable experiences of all of our lives.”

Class President Charles Brown told his fellow graduates, “After we leave here today, we will be focusing on our own path in life. To some extent, we know what lies ahead, whether it’s heading off to college, going straight to work, military services, or still trying to figure it out, which is OK. Whatever it is, the future holds great opportunities for everyone in this class. We all have the potential to be successful. We just need to be true to who we are and not let other’s judgments and criticism define us.”

Brown stated, “No matter what struggles we are faced with in life, we need to see it as an opportunity for us to become stronger, better and wiser even if it takes us out of our comfort zone, It will all be worth it. After all, the future is ours. Congratulations to the Class of 2019. I wish us all the best in life, with good health and happiness.”

Hale led the entire ceremony, telling the graduates, “Nobody can predict where you’ll be in 10 years, but that’s OK.”

But Hale urged the Class of 2019 to do three things, leading with exhibiting good character, which is “so important.” Secondly, he said the graduates should “understand grit.” Thirdly, he wanted them to have a perspective on life.

“Do not dwell on what you don’t have,” the principal said.

Hale told the graduates he was going to “crash” their reunion party in 2039 to see if they followed his three rules.

He added, “Don’t get preoccupied with what’s in you rear-view mirror.”

Kilburn told the class, “Perseverance is the magic stuff you need.” Sometimes when the future seems grim, she said people have to “see it through.”

“The best wishes for your future,” the superintendent said.

Dougherty read several poetic passages, stating, “No gift may be, except a giving back.” The graduates have given their “trust, faith and optimism,” she said.

“You’ve given us the chance to be young again,” Dougherty said.

As part of the commencement, the JHS Wind Ensemble under the direction of Andrew LaCoppola, performed the processional and recessional, National Anthem, alma mater and “Hooked On a Feeling.”

The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Class of 2019 Vice President Brock Sardella.

A vocal selections by the JHS Choir led by Director Cynthia Fiorenza was “Rise Up.”

Award winners were recognized by Kilburn, Hale and Lais. Departmental achievements were also recognized.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Patricia Older

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