LTC Greg W. Dreisbach had a choice to make.
He had always dreamed of flying helicopters, and that motivated him to become a distinguished miltary graduate and to be accepted into flight school.
After the results of his flight physical were lost, however, he was forced to retake the test, which he failed, meaning he would not be eligible for flight school.
"I felt as if my dreams had been shattered before I had the chance to make them a reality," said Dreisbach, the featured speaker for Tamaqua Area High School's 120th Commencement exercises Friday night.
"However, shortly thereafter the military notified me that I would be re-branched from aviation to artillery," he added. "I realized that I had two options; take this new opportunity or roll over and stay stuck in a lost dream. I chose the latter, and that choice led me not on one great journey, but many."
In keeping with the tradition for Tamaqua Area graduation speakers, Dreisbach is a 1980 alumnus of the school. He is the son of Carl and Nancy Dreisbach.
Dreisbach held many leadership positions during his military tenure, including as Assistant Division Signal Officer and as the Director of Information Management for Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division. His real world deployments included Hurricane Andrew, Somalia, Haiti and Iraq.
Upon his release from active military duty in 1996, he entered the New York Army National Guard, where he is currently on active duty as the Joint Task Forces Empire Shield Commander and the 101st Signal Battalion Commander.
He is the only officer to hold multiple Commands at the same time. The task force conducts homeland security missions in New York City.
Dreisbach is the recipient of many distinguished awards, including the Bronze Star, but he reminded the graduating class that "we all face trials, tribulations and setbacks in our journey. Stay focused and deal with challenges so they become life lessons you gain from."
He advised the graduates to keep their egos in check and not become a detriment, and to give generously to others. He mentioned that they should view each opportunity for change as a chance to change for the better and have a positive impact.
"Live your dream, even if that dream changes along the way. Help others, and never, ever give up," he concluded.
Principal RuthAnn Gardiner noted that, of the 156 members of the graduating class, 45 plan to attend a four-year college or university, 99 will pursue associate degrees, business of trade schools, 21 will enter the field of education, 11 have commitments for employment and one plans to enter the military.
Gardiner presented the Blew Memorial Awards, presented by Mr. and Mrs, Thomas Blew, Sr. in memory of their sons, Thomas, Jr. (TAHS 1977) and Mark Allen (TAHS 1981). The recipients are the top two students in the graduating class.
The valedictorian, Lauren E. Ward, the daughter of Thomas and Ruth Ward, had a culmulative average of 98.43. She plans to attend Lebanon Valley College.
The salutatorian, Geoffrey C. Sincavage, is the son of Charlie and Denise Sincavage, who has an average of 97.5. He will attend Penn State.
In her valedictory address, Ward spoke of the many opportunities she experienced while at Tamaqua Area, including traveling to such far away places as Quebec City, Paris, Minneapolis and Disney, as well as band festivals in Gettysburg and Blue Mountain.
Ward noted that while strong friendships have developed over the past four years, some would be devastated by being torn from their close friends, and some would have those relationships fade.
"Perhaps that isn't the worst thing that could happen," she said. "It may be cliched, but when one door closes, another one opens." She mentioned that new faces will become large parts of their lives in the future.
"My advice to you, my fellow graduates, is to know what you want, and not let anything come between you and your goals," she added. "As a class, we have conquered our fair share of trials. It's a wonder we have made it here before all of you today."
Sincavage, the class president, presented the senior class gavel to Joseph A. Rudy, president of the Class of 2011.
Sincavage thanked family, friends and faculty, particularly senior class advisor Roseann Weinrich, for their efforts in support of the class.
Sincavage also mentioned how the class endured the loss of classmate Johnny Russup, who died in a car accident their junior year, and how everyone came together in the wake of the tragedy.
As the class reflected on its time at Tamaqua, "through those reflections, I really noticed how we all changed," he added. "Not only did we all change physically, but also mentally ... we all have grown into responsible young men and women, with bright futures ahead of us."
In addition to Ward and Sincavage, honor students for the class included Katelyn M. Ciccozzi, Jacqueline E. Stewart, Jordan T. Heisler, Bergen E. Bowe, Elissa Streisel, Shelby A. Hankins, Laura M. Walser and Zoe J. Gray.