"I know that living here, and being part of this community, has made me who I am today," guest speaker Phil Zimmerman said to the 140 members of Tamaqua's 2012 graduating class and to those assembled in the school auditorium last night.

Zimmerman, a 1998 Tamaqua graduate, is a current senior publicist for the "Jeopardy!" television game show.

"Tamaqua gave me the courage to get involved and try new things that I would have never done in a larger community," Zimmerman said. "Many of my college friends were envious of my stories."

Following high school, Zimmerman went on to earn a Bachelor's degree from Lycoming College, where he majored in communications and minored in marketing. As in high school, he was heavily involved in academics and extra curricular activities, which included serving as editor of the college newspaper.

Although he had a passion for the media, Zimmerman was unsure of his direction. After college, he landed his first job working for NBC on shows including 'Dateline', 'The Today Show', 'Late Night with Conan O'Brien' and 'Saturday Night Live.'

Later, Zimmerman earned a Masters in film and media studies and worked for the Maori, New Zealand's indigenous population, setting up the first-ever all Maori television network. It was during this New Zealand experience that Zimmerman began considering a career in public relations.

After returning to Tamaqua, Zimmerman worked for then state Rep. David Argall, before moving to Washington D.C. He was then hired by a public relations agency, which gave him strong media contacts and led to his working for 'The News Hour with Jim Lehrer' on PBS.

After a position opened up at 'Jeopardy', Zimmerman applied and was hired as a senior publicist. He is responsible for the overall national publicity strategy and serves as the primary contact for the series and its ionic host, Alex Trebek.

Recalling his memories at the Tamaqua Area High School, Zimmerman told the graduates that his teachers truly cared about making an impact in the lives of their students. He credited them for laying the foundation for him to win a national Fulbright Scholarship.

Zimmerman ending his speech, saying, "As each of you move into the next stage in your life, whether it's going directly into the workforce, joining the military, starting a family, or going to college or trade school, always treasure where you come from."

School superintendent Carol Makuta also gave the graduates a strategy for success.

"Setting high expectations and striving for excellence are fundamental keys to success, growth and ultimately to a life worth living," Makuta said. "There is nothing that we should undertake that does not have these two ideas in mind. The difference it will make to our lives will be the difference between success and failure."

During the graduation, Kayla M. Hope, president of the Class of 2012, presented the gavel to Shane D. Mulligan, president of the Class of 2013.

Hope spoke of losing classmate Sabrina Hill in September of last year due to a motor vehicle accident.

"Sabrina was a friend to everyone, and she took everyone for what they were," Hope said. "Life is too short to judge people or hold grudges. After all, Sabrina didn't. We have all learned to apologize for mistakes and forgive those who have wronged us – we must enjoy life because Sabrina taught us that it is so very fragile, and nothing is guaranteed."

An empty chair was left to honor Sabrina at last night's graduation.

"This class of 2012 is full of intelligent and genuine individuals that I have had the honor to lead for the past four years, for this I am grateful," Hope said.

"Although I am saddened by the thought of their (senior's) absence within our hallways, I am equally filled with excitement and passion to work with my classmates to be able to look back upon our efforts and know that we were just as successful as the seniors were," Mulligan said.

Stephen Toth, high school principal, quoted Jean Piaget, a renowned psychologist, stating, "The principal goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not just simply repeating what other generations have done."

Toth said that 50 seniors plan to go directly to a four-year college or university; 81 plan to go to associate degree programs business or trade schools; nine plan to enter the profession of education; three plan to enter a branch of the military; and six have made commitments for employment.

In the Farewell Address, Kelsey G. Patrick, Class Valedictorian, recalled all the years the class spent together.

"The ability of each member of the class of 2012 to turn every challenge into a positive lesson is truly remarkable," Patrick said. "Although our colors may fade and some petals may fall, we can be certain that we have the foundation necessary to continue to flourish."

During the ceremony, the graduating class sang their class song "For the First Time" and their recessional "Overture for Winds."

In addition to Patrick and Hope, honor students of the class were Dana B. Ansbach, Caitlin R. Metzger, Gabrielle R. Minehan, Jacqueline A. McMullen, Erin R. Fegley, Anthony J. Iacoviello, Suzanne E. Verna Arner and Jordan E. Reabold.

Zimmerman ending his speech, saying, "As each of you move into the next stage in your life, whether it's going directly into the workforce, joining the military, starting a family, or going to college or trade school, always treasure where you come from."