On Saturday June 11, 2016, the sun was shining brightly in Lancaster, PA as 199 PALCS seniors met at Lancaster Mennonite High School. As they gathered for this momentous occasion, the overwhelming feelings of nostalgia and anticipation were transparent. The class of 2016 stood ready, joined by PALCS faculty, staff and their loved ones as they said goodbye to their years at PALCS and hello to their futures; each student carrying with them the hopes and well-wishes of those in attendance.

As families and friends filtered into the state-of-the-art Weaver Auditorium, graduates were anxiously lining up behind the scenes ready to make their family, friends and PALCS staff proud. As a sea of blue caps and gowns flooded the aisles of the auditorium, the audience broke out into applause. The auditorium was bursting with family and friends filling up the seats all the way to the balcony, not to mention all the viewers who tuned into the livestream of the event over the Internet.

To begin the ceremony, Mr. Mark Allen, the Director of Academics and the Center for Performing and Fine Arts, offered a warm welcome to all in attendance and introduced PALCS CEO and Founder, Dr. James Hanak, to deliver the opening remarks.

Offering his congratulations to the PALCS class of 2016, Dr. Hanak spoke about how PALCS has transformed from a school with eight teachers and 340 students in 2004 to an institution with 147 teachers and 2,640 students today. As Dr. Hanak moved on to speak about the advancements PALCS has made and to thank the board members and parents, he encouraged students to always ask the question “why not?” and to always challenge themselves.

To kick off the performances for the day, PALCS 2016 graduate and violinist Colin McGregor, accompanied by Dr. Allyson Roberts on the piano, captivated the audience when he performed “Czardas“, a free-flowing piece by Vittorio Monti.

High School Principal Mr. Joseph Denesbeck then introduced the first Senior Class Representative and CPFA student Samantha Raffellini to address the graduating class. Samantha opened with a quote from Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”. She related the graduates to the poem’s speaker and talked about PALCS being the road less traveled. She highlighted the fact that, although the PALCS graduates did not attend a typical Brick and Mortar school, they did attend a school that was their choice and they chose “the road less traveled”. Samantha moved on to say that if she had to make the choice again, she would still choose to attend PALCS because she had the chance to become an independent learner and gain lifelong skills. She learned to seek out answers to her questions and to pursue her dreams, rather than having everything handed to her. In closing Samantha circled back to the quote from Robert Frost, explaining that although every PALCS graduate chose to take the road less traveled, in the end it paid off.

The CPFA Chorale was then invited to give the second performance of the ceremony. Beautifully harmonizing, 21 members of the CPFA Chorale, including three 2016 graduates, performed The Beatles well-known hit “Let It Be” A Cappella.

As the audience broke out into applause, the next Senior Class Representative and USP student Mathew Corrigan was invited up to the podium to speak. Mathew delivered a speech that highlighted not only stories of his personal struggles and triumphs but also some of his friends’ stories who were also graduating. It was captivating to hear how going to PALCS has allowed these students to not only succeed but to find themselves and make their stories their own. The theme of his speech was how “PALCS Makes it Possible”. In closing, Mathew encouraged his fellow graduates to write their future stories well, “…write them well”.

The third performance of the day was given by a guitar trio, two of whom were members of the graduating class. The trio performed a fast paced piece entitled “Earworm,” which was composed and performed by PALCS student Joshua Kearney who was accompanied by students Kyle Kentzel and Elliot Mazur.

Dr. Hanak then proudly introduced the 2016 Graduation Keynote Speaker, Pennsylvania State Senator Scott Wagner to deliver the 2016 Commencement Address. This was Senator Wagner’s very first commencement address, and he was honored to be invited to speak at PALCS’ graduation ceremony. Senator Wagner was first elected into Senate in March 2014 to represent York County, where he was born and raised. He has since been re-elected to a full four-year term. Senator Wagner began his speech by asking Samantha and Mathew to send him their graduation speeches so he could add them to a leadership book that he has worked on for the past 30 years, where he collects quotes and speeches that have made an impact on him. As he turned to the graduates he encouraged them to work hard but to also work smart. He explained that with so much competition out in the world today, there are two specific phrases that will determine the difference between success and failure and those are “work ethic and determination”. Senator Wagner encouraged the graduates to learn from their mistakes and “make everyday count, but to not count the days.” He closed his speech by running through several quotes he had collected in his leadership book over the years, closing with his favorite quote, about a lion and a gazelle, “…it doesn’t matter if you are a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up you better be running.”

For the fourth performance of the day, the CPFA Chorale was invited back to the stage to perform the triumphant piece “Make Them Hear You” from the musical “Ragtime”. As they sang along with the piano, 10th grade CPFA and PALCS student Kayla Roberts stood on stage using sign language to translate the lyrics for the hearing impaired. As the audience joined in applause, it was then time for the Presentation on Academic Awards as well as the Presentation of Diplomas.

The 2016 Valedictorian, Gianni Manginelli and the 2016 Salutatorian, Ralph Lawton were introduced and awarded with plaques for their achievements. Many academic awards followed, including awards for students in the University Scholars Program, the Center for Performing and Fine Arts, the Leadership program, the School of Professional Studies, and the National Honor Society. More than 50 students were honored with Academic Awards.

As each member of the class of 2016 were called by 12th grade PALCS guidance counselor, Mr. Justin Bonner, they were invited to walk across the stage to receive their diploma and shake the hand of Dr. James Hanak, as well as the President of the PALCS Board of Trustees, Mr. William Middleton, and PALCS High School Principal, Mr. Joseph Denelsbeck. With the final graduate called to receive his diploma, the graduating class of 2016 was presented and the auditorium erupted with thunderous applause.

Director of Academics, Mr. Mark Allen, offered final congratulations to the class of 2016 and invited them to move their tassels to the left side of their caps, as they were now high school graduates. The Graduates were instructed to proceed outside for the long-standing tradition of a cap toss, where the graduates tossed their PALCS blue caps in the air, marking the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next.

Click here to view all videos from the 2016 PALCS Graduation Ceremony.