On Saturday, June 16, 2018, the PALCS community, friends, and family of the Class of 2018 gathered for the 14th Annual Commencement to celebrate the end of their high school careers and all their accomplishments. This year’s graduating class consisted of 277 PALCS students. Over 150 members of the Class of 2018 joined together on stage in Lancaster for a day of celebration.

PA Leadership’s graduation ceremony was held at the Lancaster Mennonite High School. The ceremony was held in the Weaver Auditorium and began with a slideshow featuring pictures of the Class of 2018 from their past and present.

Although the official ceremony began at 2 pm, the graduates spent the morning getting ready in the gymnasium, enjoying fun in our photo booth, keeping cool on the sunny day, and rehearsing for graduation. After rehearsal, they took some time to have lunch with one another, faculty and staff. Following lunch, it was time for the Class of 2018 and faculty to put on their caps and gowns and line up to begin commencement.

Graduation 2018 can be viewed in its entirety, or by segment, on the PALCS YouTube channel.

As the traditional Pomp and Circumstance began to play, the Class of 2018, in their PALCS blue caps and gowns, proudly emerged into the aisles following PALCS faculty and guest speaker Dr. John Wingerter, who would be delivering the commencement address. The family and friends of the graduates stood, in honor of the students’ accomplishments and eager to see their loved ones. Once the final graduate reached the stage, the audience erupted in applause that represented the pride they felt to be there, watching their students accomplish an important milestone.

As always, the ceremony began with the pledge of allegiance and national anthem, with CPFA music teacher Dr. Allyson Roberts accompanying.

PALCS graduate and U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts William McGregor took to the stage with his double bass to perform a hauntingly beautiful version of “Variations For One String” on a theme from G. Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto, written by Niccolò Paganini. Watch on YouTube.

PALCS Director of Academics and CPFA, Mr. Mark Allen, then welcomed all in attendance and thanked everyone who made the trip to Lancaster for this momentous day. Mr. Allen then 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 each and every member of the Class of 2018. He spoke about the evolution of PALCS, originally a “one room cyber school house” with 8 teachers and 340 students in 2004. Today, the school has reached over 2,900 students, with over 147 state certified and highly qualified teachers. He continued with delivering the exciting news that there are 400 students standing in line to join PALCS for the upcoming school year. After introducing the dedicated members of the board, he went on to congratulate the graduates for being true pioneers of their generation and challenge the graduates to, “take this pioneer spirit with you, wherever you go. Use your experience with Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School to cause you to always ask the question, ‘why not?’ Take the experiences you’ve had with your peers and teachers to reach new heights as you always ask of yourself, ‘what new leadership skills must I develop today in order to solve tomorrow’s problems?'” Dr. Hanak ended his remarks with encouraging the students to take the spirit of PALCS with them in their hearts and well-wishes in their futures.

The CPFA Chorale, directed by Mrs. Lisa Bennet, took the stage to perform “In Meeting We Are Blessed,” composed by Troy Robertson, accompanied by junior Ameila Rottman on the djembe drum and graduate Kayla Roberts interpreting with American Sign Language. 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 Trilby Kite up to the podium. Beginning her address by offering a huge thank you to everyone who had given the graduates their time and energy in order to reach where they are today, especially each student’s home facilitator. “Although it’s not always expressed, we students are tremendously grateful for all of the hard work and sacrifice throughout our lives.” She continued on to thank all faculty members and teachers for dedicating their valuable time to their students. While she has attended PALCS, every year, there has been, “at least one teacher that has forced me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to become not only a better student, but a better person.” In Trilby’s final year at PALCS, that teacher was her Honors English teacher, Mr. Flagler. She also thanked Dr. Hanak for creating PALCS in the first place and providing students with an experience that is unlike any other. “PALCS allows students to work toward their dreams without the constraints of traditional schooling.” She credits PALCS with allowing her the opportunity of graduating at 16 years old, with nearly a full tuition scholarship to Georgian Court University, where she will play Division 2 volleyball and study Exercise Science, with hopes of becoming an Athletic Trainer. Trilby continued to thank and credit PALCS teachers and staff: “It is through their hard work, passion for our non-traditional education, and belief in the idea that ‘PALCS Makes It Possible’ that many of us students have gone on to achieve their dreams and build a new future.” She ended her speech by addressing her fellow graduates, urging them to “use the time you’ve had at PALCS to influence your future, and to help create a world in which you are proud of.” Watch on YouTube.

Graduating senior Zachary Powell was then invited to the piano to perform the classical piece “Clair de Lune,” composed by Claude Debussy. As Zachary brought his captivating performance to a close, Dr. Hardin invited the second senior class representative up to the podium to address the graduates. Watch on YouTube.

Julianna Chen took to the podium, beginning her speech by passionately saying it was an honor to be standing amidst the next change-makers in our world. “We are the next researchers, teachers, scientists, mathematicians, musicians, and artists that get to leave our mark.” Julianna’s address focused on gratitude to all the PALCS parents and legal guardians, as well as encouraging her fellow graduates to inspire positive change in the world. She used a metaphor of each student being a unique sailboat: “We have developed our blueprint design over the course of our educational years. We gathered the knowledge and tools needed to stabilize ourselves for the journey ahead. As we grew personally and in our relationship with others, we built intricate support beams in our boat to prepare us for our next exciting adventure. Now, the only way to test out how we can set sail, is by going out into the unknowns of the ocean. Remember, the true test of our boat’s stability will not be in the shallow, calm water, but in the midst of some storms.” In closing, she proudly turned to her fellow graduates and said, “change begins with us. Congratulations class of 2018, we’ve conquered this chapter and we are just getting started.” Watch on YouTube.

As the crowd joined in enthusiastic applause for Julianna’s inspiring address, Mr. Allen invited senior vocalists Grace Slear and John Viggiano up to perform “Move On” from the musical “Sunday in the Park with George,” composed by Stephen Sondheim. Grace and John captivated the audience with a beautiful duet, sending the message to the graduates to live in the moment, to not get caught up in the past or future possibilities, and to be creators. Watch on YouTube.

It was then time for the 2018 commencement address, delivered by Dr. John Wingerter. A longtime supporter and former board member of PALCS, Dr. Wingerter is a retired teacher, principal and superintendent of the prestigious Marple Newtown School District in Delaware County. He has also previously served as an Associate Dean of Students and directed the doctoral program for future superintendents at Immaculata University. Dr. Wingerter is credited with writing the final letter of recommendation the secured PA Leadership’s charter after two years of submissions and resubmissions to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. During his time as chairman of the PALCS Board of Directors and the Coordinator of Academic Administration, successful PALCS programs like University Scholars and the Center for Performing and Fine Arts were created. Under the leadership of Dr. Wingerter, PALCS grew to become the top cyber charter school in the state.

Dr. Wingerter took to the podium and started off with expressing how honored he was to be there and how he himself remembers his high school graduation. After opening up with a few jokes and riddles that amused the crowd, he began speaking about relationships. He touched upon the importance of having a relationship with yourself. He encouraged the graduates to take time to find purpose and build a strong foundation, “because you are the only you on this earth.” Next, he spoke about the relationship with faith and encouraged them to find a meaningful and a spiritual life purpose. He touched upon the fact that communication is key and is what will lead to successful relationships in life. Good relationships, he explained, are what will strengthen each person and their meaning in life. “Giving of ourselves is one of the most powerful actions we can express and exhibit in our relationships,” he said. In closing, Dr. Wingerter stressed that, “the moment that we stop caring about others to only focus on ourselves is the moment where life starts to lose meaning. By giving of ourselves to make someone’s day even better, it enriches your life and motivates you to be more than you are today.” In his final remarks, Dr. Wingerter encouraged the graduates to always remember to be strong in character and to be a giver in each of their lives. 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 Valedictorian had been awarded to senior Laura Dodds of Chester Springs. While at PALCS, Laura was a member of USP, volunteered as coach for the middle school robotics team, was a member of the mock trial team, National Honors Society, served as a teaching assistant for both Honors and AP Physics, and played several key roles on her own world class robotics team. Laura won the National Merit Scholarship and will be attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the fall to study computer science.

The Salutatorian role was awarded to two seniors who had identical GPAs and who happen to be identical twin brothers, Matthew and Nathaniel Hess of Kennett Square, PA. Matthew was a member of USP, National Honor Society, and competed nationally for his ultimate Frisbee team. He will be attending the University of Pittsburgh and will be majoring in environmental studies. Nathaniel has a black belt in Tang Soo Do, was the president of the National Honor Society, the Vice President of Student Council, and also competed nationally in ultimate Frisbee. He will be attending the University of Pennsylvania this coming fall and will be majoring in chemical engineering.

Dr. Hardin then began to announce the many additional academic awards that students earned, such as the Quill Award from the English Department, the Blaise Pascal Award from the Math Department, 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 2018 CEO Leadership Award, Ms. Julianna Chen. 26 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.

Dr. Hardin then returned to the podium to officially present the Class of 2018 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 Dr. John Wingerter. With each student’s name being called, there was celebration among the crowd as their students walked across the stage, ending their adolescent journeys and beginning the next chapter of their individual lives.

Mr. Allen stood to offer one last final congratulations to the Class of 2018 and invited them to move their tassels to the left, 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 they proudly marched out of the auditorium and into their futures.

The day ended with the traditional graduation cap toss outside and a celebratory reception that welcomed all graduates and their family and friends.

Congratulations, PALCS Class of 2018! We are so proud of you!