Class of 2016 says goodbye at War Memorial Field

By on June 8, 2016
Patrick Gallagher (left to right), Mitchel Storb, Chase Weik and Nick Auker pose with the trophy in their caps and gowns. Photo by Jeremy Bischoff.

Patrick Gallagher (left to right), Mitchel Storb, Chase Weik and Nick Auker pose with the trophy in their caps and gowns. Photo by Jeremy Bischoff.

Family and friends arrived in their Sunday best on a muggy evening to celebrate the 2016 graduating class of Ephrata High School held at War Memorial Stadium June 2.

Standing by the chain link fence that circled the athletic field, Sainabou Badjie held a wild bouquet of balloons. They were in honor of her sister, Oumie Jallow, as she participated in the 121st senior commencement.

Badjie’s family had come from Gambia, West Africa, several years ago, and this night was a long-awaited watershed, an achievement after years of struggle.

“We are proud,” Badjie said. “It means a lot, her graduation…there was the language barrier, everything through the years, difficulties…we are so happy. We are so happy for her.”

The evening had all the emotional highs and lows of a new year’s celebration for the seniors as they marked a new beginning in their lives.

District Superintendent Dr. Brian M. Troop assured the crowd that rain would hold off, and except for a few rumbles of thunder, the night remained clear.

Troop told the families that the Class of 2016 is indeed special; high-achievers who helped Ephrata High School achieve number one ranking in school performance in the Lancaster/Lebanon Intermediate Unit.

“Of all the graduates in all the places I’ve worked, I’d put this high-powered group of individuals up against any of them,” Troop said.

Troop added icing to that cake by announcing the Ephrata baseball team had just brought home its first-ever district title.

Tradition shared the night with technology as a picture-taking drone hovered over the field while the purple-robed graduates marched in to the familiar “Pomp and Circumstance.”

The graduating seniors received a standing ovation from proud families, complete with cheering and whistling. Bouquets of flowers peppered the crowd, gifts from grateful parents.

Class President Catherine Vargas welcomed all guests to the commencement, then asked parents and guardians to stand to receive recognition for their hard work and influence.

Vargas spoke of the anticipation of becoming a senior.

“Just like that, four long years are finally over and we reached the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel,” Vargas said.

High School Principal Dr. Scott Galen said 58 seniors had earned a weighted GPA of 4.0, making them the top class in Lancaster County and the 16th overall in the state.

Saying the seniors were “a group of amazing young adults,” Galen encouraged the graduates to help others throughout their lives.

Graduating senior Andrew Gerges was the first to address the crowd.

Like Badjie, he could identify with the struggles inherent in leaving one culture and starting over in a new one.

“Coming to America seven years ago was not an easy transition for me and my family,” Gerges said. “We were faced with multiple challenges, like the language barrier and culture shock.”

Gerges said he had a hard time adapting to his new environment, but gained friends and confidence over time. He thanked his classmates for their kindness and friendship. Then, in Arabic, he addressed his parents, thanking them and saying he would try to repay them for all they had done for him.

“This ending is the beginning of the rest of our lives,” Gerges said. “Together we have learned that success is not just getting good grades, but having the skill to win people’s hearts through our character and behavior.”

Brian and Kim Hartranft of Ephrata waited in the metal bleachers of the stadium to watch son Benjamin take the stage for his diploma.

Watching their first child graduate, their feelings were mixed.

“This is the start of the next chapter of his life,” Brian Hartranft said.

“I think I’ll be alright here tonight, but when I drop him off at college…I don’t know,” said Benjamin’s mom, Kim. “He’s growing up.”

The Hartranfts only have a few weeks to get used to the idea of Benjamin starting that new chapter, as his studies in computer science at Penn State start in late June.

“His high school experience was good; he’s gotten a lot of opportunities here and was involved in a lot of musical things and band,” Kim Hartranft said.

Ben’s grandparents, Harry and Barbara Bateman of North Carolina, made the trip north to see their grandson graduate.

“We’re excited; he’s worked so hard for 12 years,” said Barbara Bateman.

“We’ve all been through it,” said Harry Bateman. “But it’s kind of neat.”

The family plans to mark the occasion with a trip to North Carolina.

Jay Johnson of Ephrata had two daughters participating in the ceremony, as Brittany was graduating and younger sister, Aleah, a freshman, played trumpet in the school band that provided music for the evening.

“I’m happy for her to get to the next chapter of her life, but sad for me, because she’ll be leaving for college,” Johnson said.

Brittany will be starting at Liberty University in Virginia this coming fall, majoring in nursing, with a minor in German.

“I’m very proud of her,” Johnson said. “She’s very driven. Four years ago, she told me she was going to this college, and it was the only one she applied for.”

The Johnson’s family celebration was postponed for a day since Brittany had to get up early to work at a supermarket in Akron Friday morning.

It was an evening to which Tammy Weiss of Ephrata Township had looked forward to for quite some time, as son Michael became a graduate.

“I’m feeling pretty emotional and excited all at once,” Weiss said. “After all these years, I’m hoping that he has a good future path. I believe the CTC put him on the right path.”

Michael has already found a position with Jones’ Car Dealership in Lancaster, she said.

A dozen family members also came to see Michael graduate, some coming from as far as Pittsburgh.

“Our family usually isn’t able to make it, because of being far-flung, but they’re here tonight and we’re all going out to dinner,” Weiss said.

The senior class motto was “Our Story Starts Now,” a theme embraced by the student orators.

“Our school careers have been like a book…each grade as a chapter,” said Valedictorian Allison Ludwig. “The book of our time at Ephrata will close, but the lessons from our tale will live on in our lives.

“It’s fine to relieve your glory days every now and then, and stroll down memory lane, but it’s more important to keep moving forward, learning and growing every day,” Ludwig said.

Gratitude to parents, teachers, friends, and even the bus drivers and the “lunch ladies” for their support was the order of the day.

Salutatorian Jasmine Carr gave a tribute to her 80-year-old grandmother, whose unwavering support helped her to surmount challenges and keep her focused.

“I’ve learned to love helping people by seeing my grandma give her all to help others,” Carr said. “She would always tell me, at the end of the day, it’s not how many races you’ve won or how much money you have, but how happy you are.”

Senior Mason Hornberger summed up what many of her classmates were feeling.

“I’m really going to miss you guys. For many of our years, I’ve seen you almost every single school day,” Hornberger said. “It’s going to be a little scary leaving this place that we’ve called home, but it’s time.”

EHS seniors file toward the stage area at graduation Thursday.

EHS seniors file toward the stage area at graduation Thursday.

Class of 2016 valedictorian Allison Ludwig gives her speech to her fellow classmates during Thursday’s  graduation

Class of 2016 valedictorian Allison Ludwig gives her speech to her fellow classmates during Thursday’s
graduation.

Salutatorian Jasmeen Kaur (third from left) takes a moment to pose  with family at EHS graduation

Salutatorian Jasmeen Kaur (third from left) takes a moment to pose with family at EHS graduation

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