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Purple rain Downpour outside doesn’t stop outpour of emotions indoors as Ephrata grads receive their diplomas
ANDY FASNACHT Review Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
, Staff Writer
Class President Gabriel "Gabo" Murcia’s welcome speech seemed to represent a microcosm of the tone set at Ephrata’s 118th Commencement ceremony last Thursday evening.
The affable and energetic Murcia exhibited a wide range of emotions in delivering his address, likely matching what was being felt by the capacity crowd filling the bleachers of the Ephrata Middle School gymnasium. Already facing the powerful and bittersweet feelings associated with graduation day, the administration, staff, families and seniors were also dealing with the quick change of venue brought on by steady showers which plagued the area from mid-afternoon on Thursday.
The change from spacious War Memorial Field to the gym limited class members to four tickets per family, and decisions needed to be made on who would be in the main venue and who would watch from closed circuit in the auditorium and cafeteria. With no evident issues spurred on by the change, the ceremony unfolded as planned and the 300-plus graduate candidates entered the gymnasium to the familiar strains of "Pomp and Circumstance." Instantly there were smiles followed by tears behind the dozens and dozens of cameras, phones and videocameras trying to capture the moment throughout the bleachers. The day certainly took most involved on a rollercoaster of emotions, as did Murcia’s welcome.
The senior immediately induced a ripple of laughter through the crowd and among his classmates when he uttered a poem inspired by the ever-popular Will Smith and his Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song.
"Now this is the story all about how
My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute just sit right up
And I’ll tell you how I graduated from Ephrata
In west Akron born and raised
In the classroom where I spent most of my days
Chilling out, studying, reading all cool
And playing some sports outside of the school
Without all the wonderful teachers it couldn’t be done
and without all my classmates it wouldn’t be fun
We are now onto things much greater
yell to your parents "Yo, homes smell you later!"
Look at your kingdom puff out your chest
and sit on your throne as a fresh graduate of EHS"
Murcia went on to detail some of the great accomplishments of the school and the senior class this year and over their high school careers. He also got serious when talking about the need to keep up school funding before praising the teachers and the impact they have had.
Then, as he started to pay tribute to the parents of the Class of 2013, he paused, wrestling with emotion.
"Without you none of this would have been possible. You have supported us in everything we have done throughout the years," he said.
"Thank you for your patience…in my case extreme patience…and for your unending love and generosity."
Murcia not only got the students to recognize their parents but soon they were all giving a standing ovation to them.
He then deftly brought it back to his classmates again before ending it on another smile.
Murcia questioned them all asking who would be the first to cure cancer; who would be a Rhodes Scholar or win a Nobel Prize, before asking, "Which one of us will become president?
"I don’t…actually…I do know that one," Murcia said, with a smile as the crowd laughed in approval.
"I believe if it is not a matter of if, but when. Our education at Ephrata Area School District has groomed us to accomplish whatever goals we set."
Prior to Murcia’s welcome, Ephrata’s retiring Superintendent Dr. Gerald Rosati took to the Commencement stage one last time.
Dr. Rosati started by ensuring everyone that it was going to be a great evening indoors where it is dry and cool.
He did not discuss his retirement status or dwell on it being his last ceremony but instead turned the focus to the students and their parents and what is most important in life.
"In 100 years, (as opposed to material items) what matters is you were important in the lives of these students."
Dr. Rosati then asked the class "to pay it forward" and reminded them what a great accomplishment earning a diploma is.
However, before the superintendent could return to his seat, Murcia called him back up to the microphone, where he could pay tribute to Dr. Rosati’s status as a retiring superintendent. Murcia then presented him with a Class of 2013 t-shirt and a pen, before offering a twist on their class motto:
"The pen is in your hand and the rest of your life is still unwritten," Murcia said, bringing a big smile from Dr. Rosati.
Principal Joane Eby, who followed Murcia in the program, kept the lighthearted spirit going by making mention of the charismatic senior and his presentation.
"Your president is a tough act to follow," Eby said.
Eby then went on to encourage the class and also touched on that class motto.
"You write your own story…no plagiarism allowed, in school or in life," she said.
Eby went on to highlight the arts and their importance but kept on the theme of the stories yet to be written.
"Entwine your stories with others who write different stories.
"You have the power within yourself to change the world’s story," she concluded.
The first speaker, Brianna Hamilton, highlighted her transition of moving from New York to Ephrata and the impact her mother has had on her life.
We may have had a teacher, family member or even a coach in our lives that pushed us to fulfill our dreams and aspirations," Hamilton said. "For me, it was and still is my mother. When my fears and doubts yelled for me to quit she was the little angel on my shoulder telling me never to give up. With that being said, we must understand that these people were there for encouragement; but it was all up to us to go the extra mile to make it happen."
She talked about transformations in her life-going from doubting her abilities to understanding that with "dedication and willpower, anything is possible and also understanding that everything happens for a reason.
"I would view every unpleasant event as a setback, but in reality it was only God’s way of showing me I just needed to work a little harder, or maybe there was something better in store for me," Hamilton continued. "A perfect example of this would be my drastic move from the big city of New York, to the bucolic town of Ephrata. As much as my mother tried to convince me this move was for the better, I couldn’t see how this could possibly benefit me.
"Smelling cow manure in the summer heat wasn’t my idea of a better future…Or the fact that I didn’t see a train, subway or cab in sight. How was I possibly going to get around?" she said. "Looking back at that summer day now makes me laugh because I’m so use to this place now, regardless of its agricultural smells and Amish buggies. As an adult and graduating senior I understand it now.
"All my parents really wanted was for their family to be out of the city and in a better environment. Here I would focus on my education rather than the glitz and glam of the Big Apple. So, instead of fearing change we will face our futures, and embrace it rather than resist it."
Speaker Emily Zimmerman began with talk of childhood and the safety that comes with it, and the journey through the educational experience
"Too soon, we were required to make atonement for wrong actions and take on responsibility. Middle school shook up the contents of the comfortable little boxes labeled Akron, Lincoln, Highland, Clay, Fulton," Zimmerman said, referencing the challenges of growing up. "All this while trying to not trip on our own feet, to make new friends, and to search for some way to make going through puberty quick and painless. Each one of us remembers different trials of the ‘awkward years’ and the four-year whirlwind called high school, but what kept us going?
"I urge all of you to recall what drove you to this point, this prominent milestone of our lives."
She concluded with some sobering points about what happens next with all of them.
"Classmates, over the last 18 years we have stood by one another, both inside and outside the security of a school campus," Zimmerman said. "And here we are, grouped together for one final EHS senior encore. It is possible that some of us will not run into each other again after this evening. But isn’t that the natural course of life?
"Characters in books come and go, sometimes within a few short chapters. The plotline shifts every so often, leaving the reader (and the author, on occasion) astonished, anxious, or even excited. If we are the authors of our lives, we must remember how the English department taught us to write," she concluded. "Begin with an interest catcher to hook the audience in. Follow with an introduction, to which we are in the process of adding the final touches. Fill the body with detail and spunk, savoring every word of the future that you write. And finally, reminisce on the piece with a notable conclusion – a good clincher is what readers remember the most."
Class valedictorian Laura Miller also followed suit and mixed in humor with thought-provoking commentary. She got a laugh after one sentence.
"Hello. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to live my worst nightmare, public speaking, in front of you all tonight," Miller said.
She then picked up again on the finality of it all on this evening and the directions to be taken next.
"We need to experience some sort of closure after spending 13 years tied to the same place and people," Miller said. "We’re here at the final ceremony on the final evening of our final year as students of Ephrata High School. This has lasted the better part of our lives, and now we are saying good-bye.
"Many of us won’t see each other again until the first class reunion," Miller continued before turning around to her class president. "You will organize one, right Gabo?
"And by that time, most of us hopefully will have continued to grow and change for the better," she said. "Looking back, our accomplishments today may seem modest. But, tonight is important because it is when we are finally handed the reins. Tomorrow we’ll all be deciding which direction we want to go and tomorrow we’ll be responsible for determining how we’ll get there."
She then shifted gears and sparked several smiles sharing this thought from a late, great musician.
"John Lennon once told this story: ‘When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down I want to be happy. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.’"
The top student in the class then left some powerful words for her teachers.
"Thank you for your incredible efforts in educating us," she said. "The great poet, Robert Frost once said, ‘I am not a teacher, but an awakener.’ In Latin the word, educare (ed-u-car-ay) means to draw out or bring out from within. To awaken. That’s a profound charge, a sacred mission – so, teachers, I thank you for accepting that challenge.
"To the graduates, this part of our education is now complete, but we are not yet fully educated. In truth we never will be. From here on out though, our education is in our own hands. Our own awakening is now up to us. It is up to us to pursue our passions, to create the intelligence, the will and the skills to improve not just ourselves, but our communities and society.
That left just the presentation of diplomas to the more than 300 graduates of the Class of 2013 and the singing of the Alma Mater. But prior to that, Ephrata Area School Board President Tim Stayer had some words for the departing seniors.
Stayer started by asking rhetorically if the students were ready for the next page – ironically and comically, a small child in the audience responded they were. But Stayer then proceeded to list through some of the negative headlines which have been dominating the news and the nation over the past year.
"Are you ready to enter the world?" he asked again.
After offering words of advice and encouragement he then asked it again, this time looking for a response – to which the students shouted…"Yes!"
Stayer then concluded with his own affirmation and confidence in them with a very emphatic "YES!" of his own.
More EHS GRADUATION, page A2