High school graduation is a time to look back, and to the future. It is a time to have finally attained the maturity to be able to appreciate all that families, teachers and others have done to help young men and women ready themselves to go out into the world.

For Northern Lehigh High School Class of 2011 valedictorian Nicole Catherine Czarnecki, it was also a time of gratitude.

"Our families have dreams, sometimes on our behalf, and some are more difficult to attain than others. But it's important to realize that they only want to see us reach our highest potential," she said. "I stand in front of you here today filled with mixed emotions, for I have, after four years, fulfilled the dream that my grandfather had for me. Before he passed away during our freshman year, I promised him that I would graduate valedictorian of our class.

"His death turned out to be a relentless motivator for what became my biggest obsession. He never got to see me play my first soccer game, or watch as I grew to the woman here today. But with joyous tears I can proudly leave my accomplishment of today in his memory," she said.

Salutatorian Michael Todd Hofmann Jr. spoke of a very early lesson, one that he will carry throughout life.

"Our elementary art teacher, Mrs. Millen, had a poster hanging up on the top of her white board. It read 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you'. Known as the Golden Rule, this quote has been an integral part in our lives since our early educational years," he said.

"Truly, we have all followed the Golden Rule, but we also must remember that practicing the Golden rule in the future is not a sacrifice; it is an investment. We are not sacrificing anything of our own; instead, we are investing in our peers, our futures and our community," he said.

Class of 2011 president Payton Rachel Marunich spoke the class' athletic accomplishments, its superb marching band, and the close, small-school community in which she and her classmates matured.

That solid ground would help lead to stable, productive lives.

"I challenge you, beginning today, to build upon your foundation and make a name for yourself in life, because we are only given one chance to make a difference," she said.

"Every cause will have an effect, every opportunity an experience and every dream a reality," she said.

High school Principal Aileen M. Yadush elicited chuckles and wistful expressions as she mention many students by name, recalling their unique personalities and gifts.

"These memories will forever bring a smile to my face," she said.

The graduation Friday – which included a tribute to the Class of 1961, many of whom attended the ceremony – was held in the high school gymnasium due to the threat of rain. The families and friends of the graduates filled the spacious gym to standing-room-only capacity; many overflowed to the auditorium to watch the ceremony on closed-circuit television.

Superintendent Michael Michaels presented the class of 2011, and Assistant Principal Donald B. Allen recognized seniors who had won awards. School board president Edward E. Hartman presented the diplomas.