Saturday, June 17, 2017 was no ordinary day for the PALCS community; it was a momentous occasion for all involved. PALCS staff, 170 members of the Class of 2017 and their families and friends joined together in Lancaster, PA for a day dedicated to celebrating the graduates and their accomplishments. It was a beautiful day with the sun shining bright and the anticipation of all that is too come for our Class of 2017.
Just like the years before, graduation was held at the Lancaster Mennonite High School campus. As family and friends filtered into the Weaver Auditorium, they were greeted by a slideshow featuring pictures of the Class of 2017 from their past and present, inspiring feelings of nostalgia about where the graduates started and where they are now. The graduates, getting ready in the gymnasium, spent the morning using our fun photo booth, keeping cool and rehearsing for graduation. After lunch, it was time for the Class of 2017 and faculty to line up in their caps and gowns, marching out into the auditorium and on to their futures.
As PALCS Center for Performing and Fine Arts (CPFA) teacher Dr. Allyson Roberts began to play the traditional Pomp and Circumstance, the recognizable sea of blue caps and gowns flooded into the aisles following PALCS faculty and guest speaker James E. McEarlane, Esq., who would be delivering the commencement address. As the students marched in, their family and friends stood in honor of their accomplishments, eager to get a glance and picture of their graduating student. The students arrived to the stage and joined the faculty as the audience and staff erupted in applause. The ceremony began with the pledge of allegiance and Dr. Roberts leading the audience in singing the national anthem.
Following the national anthem was the first performance of the day, by graduating senior vocalist Ashley Lennick, accompanied by CPFA teacher Ms. Lisa Bennet on the piano. Starting out a capella, Ashley sang a beautiful rendition of the Miley Cyrus ballad “The Climb,” which describes the journey of life as a rewarding yet sometimes difficult battle.
PALCS Director of Academics and CPFA, Mr. Mark Allen, then welcomed all in attendance and thanked all who made the trip to Lancaster for this very special day. He gave special recognition to graduating senior, Grant Deguzman, who has attended PALCS his entire academic career, since kindergarten. Mr. Allen continued and introduced PALCS Founder and CEO, Dr. James Hanak, to deliver the opening remarks.
Dr. Hanak reached the podium and offered a sincere and well deserved congratulations to the Class of 2017. He spoke about the evolution of PALCS from being the original one room cyber school with 8 teachers and 304 students in 2004 to today reaching 2,700 students this past school year with over 150 state certified and highly qualified teachers. He continued with delivering the exciting news that, two days prior, it was announced that out of all of the school districts and charter schools in Pennsylvania, PALCS came in 10th place for the highest ACT scores out of over 750 districts and charter schools. After introducing the dedicated members of the board, he encouraged the graduates to always ask themselves, “what new leadership skills must I develop today in order to solve tomorrow’s problems,” ending his remarks with well wishes for the graduates in their futures.
The CPFA Chorale, directed by Ms. Bennet, took the stage to perform “You Reap What You Sow,” with senior class soloists Kaitlyn McGee, Benjamin Powell, and Taylor Ruffo, also with junior Kayla Roberts interpreting with American Sign Language. The chorale assembled onto the stage with a blend of graduating seniors and lower classmen harmonizing beautifully, singing a capella. Watch on YouTube.
Then it was time for the first senior class representative to address the class, with high school principal, Dr. Chris Hardin, inviting up to the podium senior Eliana Chow. Beginning her address in an authentic way, she opted to use the phrase “we fought” instead of the typical “we did it.” As she went into detail of the fight the Class of 2017 was up against, she explained that with the challenge of learning time management skills, staying organized, technical difficulties, financial hardships, family struggles and, for some, even illness, the hope to succeed could have easily been lost. However, she proudly exclaims that by being there on that stage with “tired, victorious grins on our faces, we can say that we won this fight.” She went on to thank PALCS faculty for dedicating their time to the students and parents and guardians for all that they have done to help their students. She highlighted that leadership is key in their future endeavors, and leaders put their team and the people before themselves. In closing, Eliana offered her congratulations and sincere encouragement to the Class of 2017. Watch on YouTube.
Graduating senior Benjamin Powell was then invited to the piano to perform Sergei Rachmanioff’s complicated “Prelude in C# Minor” for all in attendance. As Benjamin brought his moving performance to a close, Dr. Hardin invited the second senior class representative up to the podium to address the graduates. Watch on YouTube.
Joshua Marzak began his address in a more traditional way saying with a grin on his face, “I know it is a cheesy thing to say, but we did it.” Joshua’s speech highlighted the fact that they were closing one chapter of their lives and turning the page to the next chapter “but what do we want to see on that next page?” he asked. He goes on to tell a story he once heard about a pencil’s purpose relating it to the graduates’ purpose in life. “We have a purpose, but in order to affect change we need to think outside of the pencil box. We must strive to be scholars, we must seek to be servants, we must endeavor to be an example, we must aspire to be leaders,” he encouraged. He passionately explained each task and how to accomplish each one. As he spoke of serving the community and others he mentioned the role model his mother has become to him and went on to thank her for all she has given up in order to provide him with a wonderful life, “you have truly embraced the role of a servant,” he directed to his mom. He spoke of being an example and how his PALCS teachers have been an example to him personally, “examples exist so that we may model after them,” he said. In closing he expressed how thankful he was to Dr. Hanak for starting a school that has, as Joshua’s puts it, “given me a set of experiences that I can use to embrace my role as a pencil.” Circling back, Joshua presents the question again, of what the next page in each students’ new chapter looks like, “the pencil box is open,” he said, “now go and make your mark.” Watch on YouTube.
As the crowd applauded Joshua’s encouraging address, Mr. Allen invited senior vocalist Taylor Ruffo up to perform “What I Did for Love,” from the musical, “A Chorus Line.” Accompanied by Ms. Bennett on the piano, Taylor delivered a beautiful rendition of the song earning the audiences enthusiastic applause. Watch on YouTube.
It was then time for the 2017 commencement address, delivered by Mr. James E. McErlane, Esq., Senior Partner in the Law Firm of Lamb McErlane P.C. Originally from Malvern Pennsylvania. Mr. McErlane earned his undergraduate degree and law degree from Villanova University. As one of the founding members of the firm, which was organized in 1971, Mr. McEarlane was named as a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer for General Business Law. Mr. McErlane took to the podium and started off with expressing how honored he was to be there and how impressed he was with PA Leadership and the Class of 2017’s accomplishments. His address highlighted the opportunities that the graduates have ahead of them as well as leadership being one of the most important qualities a person can have. Mr. McErlane passionately spoke about the graduates bright futures and encouraged them to be the best they can possibly which will lead them to be successful no matter what they pursue. He asked the graduates to, “look at yourself in the mirror and first take pride in what you have accomplished, secondly appreciate those who helped you accomplish it, and thirdly tell yourself, you are just getting started, you are not the smartest guy around…and remember life does not give us more than we can handle…” In closing, Mr. McErlane looked to the graduates and proudly congratulated them and thanked their families for supporting each of their students. Watch on YouTube.
The CPFA chorale was then welcomed back to the stage to deliver another beautiful performance under the direction of Ms. Bennett, with soloist Matthew Lebermann, accompanist John Viggiano, and junior Kayla Roberts offering American Sign Language. Harmonizing together, the chorale performed “Woven Together,” composed by Jacob Narverud. Watch on YouTube.
As the applause started to quiet down, Dr. Hardin and USP principal, Mr. Chris Stiles, took to the podium for the presentation of academic awards. Mr. Stiles announced that the role of Salutatorian had been awarded to senior Nicholas Serkes of Chester Springs, who earned a cumulative GPA of 4.576. While at PALCS, Nick was a member of the robotics team, the AIC council, the interact club, the math club and the USP ultimate Frisbee team all while also working at Chick-Fil-A as a team manager. This fall, he will be attending Cornell University’s College of Engineering and will be majoring in computer science with a minor in business. The Valedictorian role was awarded to senior James Hurd, of Media, Pennsylvania, who earned a cumulative GPA of 4.583. While at PALCS, he was a member of the AIC council, crew, and the USP ultimate Frisbee team. James has earned a full academic scholarship, as well as the National Merit Scholarship Award to Temple University and will be majoring in computer science on the pre-med track.
Dr. Hardin then began to announce the many additional academic awards that students earned, from the Quill Award for writing to the Blaise Pascal Award for math, and the Charles Babbage & Ada Lovelace Technology Award; there were over 20 academic awards given to PALCS graduates, including awards for students who were members of CPFA and USP. Special recognition was given to students who earned certificates in the School of Professional Studies, as well as a Leadership certificate. Dr. Hanak then stood to announce the winner of the 7th annual Sally Cummings Constitution Memorial Scholarship Award, which was awarded to Joshua Marzak, who also received the 2017 CEO Leadership Award. Members of the National Honors Society were then announced and asked to stand in recognition of their accomplishments as well as seniors graduating with honors.
CPFA senior pianist, Christian Davis, was then invited to perform his own original piece, “It’s a New Day” with senior Steven Holley on percussion and senior Favian Harris and Dr. Roberts on vocals. As the last performance of the day came to a close, it was time for the Presentation of the Diplomas. Watch on YouTube.
Dr. Hardin took to the podium to officially present the Class of 2017 and invite each hard working graduate to come forward to receive their diploma and shake the hand of Dr. Hanak, President of the Board Mr. William Middleton, and guest speaker Mr. McErlane. With each student’s name being called, there was celebration among the crowd as their students walked across that stage ending their adolescent journeys and beginning the next chapter.
Mr. Allen then offered final congratulations to the Class of 2017, as they were now high school graduates. The crowd joined together in a standing ovation for the graduates, applauding and cheering each one of them as the proudly marched out of the auditorium. The significant day ended with the traditional but never boring graduation cap toss outside and a celebratory reception that welcomed all graduates and their family and friends.