Seventy-one Panther Valley High School seniors graduated on Monday night in the school's auditorium but before they did so, valedictorian Jacob Tokosh asked his classmates to raise their hands and answer one last question as Panther Valley students.
"How many of you here, on this stage, have ambition?
"Critics have condemned us, Generation Y, as lazy, sloppy, snobby, and overly entitled. In their eyes, we have indeed become the letter 'Y' and the question 'why?' 'Why do we even exist?,'" said Tokosh.
Tokosh stood at the podium and angled his body to the left to face and address his classmates as he spoke to them about passion, "desire's focusing lens" as he phrased it. He called for the students to take responsibility for their futures and the future of humanity.
"Now is our chance to prove to everyone everyone who has ever declared us ignorant of apathetic that we are more than this question, 'why,' relying on their validation. Now, we answer to ourselves."
Tokosh's voice softened as he spoke of the impact the class will have on the future. Excitement crept back into his voice as he left his classmates with one final, resonating statement.
"To preserve the order of progress and ensure the posterity of man, we need only to find passion in life and pursue it to our absolute ends. Passion instinctive, eternal, ineffaceable makes all the difference."
Tokosh returned to his seat amid the sounds of deafening applause. Class of 2013 President Richard Smith offered Tokosh his hand and the two young men shook hands in a moment of student unity that neither of them will be likely to forget very soon.
Earlier, after the processional of students to "Pomp and Circumstance" and the singing of the national anthem by Katie Evans, Judy Lin and Tokosh, Smith began the graduation with a welcome address to those in attendance and asked his classmates to reflect upon their years at Panther Valley High School.
"Think of all of the friends you have made here in the halls of Panther Valley. Think of all of the times of struggle that you have faced, wondering if this moment would ever arrive. It is through these memories and experiences that you have become who you are today," said Smith.
Smith said the night was full of mixed emotions and the intermingling happiness and sorrow was evident on the face of salutatorian Samantha Zlock.
Zlock swallowed back tears and touched her hand to her heart as she delivered her speech that stressed the importance of happiness.
"Classmates, some people believe that to be successful in life, we have to have money, but this is not always true. To truly be successful in life, we must be happy," said Zlock.
Adding, "To achieve happiness, we must make informed and intelligent decisions, we must be able to accept and forgive, and be able to live up to the expectations that we have set for ourselves; not the ones that others have set for us."
Superintendent of Panther Valley school district Rosemary Porembo told students they must appreciate the journey that is life and repeated in her remarks a famous John Lennon quote: "Life is what happens while we are (busy) making other plans."
High school principal Joseph Gunnels awarded scholarships to high-achieving members of the graduating class. Class officers, student council representatives, National Honor Society officers and members and the top 10 academically ranked members of the class were all recognized.
Before the presentation of diplomas and the declaration of graduation, class President Smith presented black, gold and white banners to class of 2014 President Lenny Ogozalek in the passing of the colors.
Twenty-fourteen will mark the 50th anniversary of the school, said Gunnels.
Smith led the class in his last duty as senior class President and at his signal, the other graduates moved his or her tassel from right to left. They sang the school's Alma Mater and as the last note of the song rang out, 71 black and gold caps were tossed up into the air. Both parents and graduates filled the auditorium with cheers.
The graduates of Panther Valley High School exited the auditorium to "Pomp and Circumstance" knowing that they finally achieved what they had set out to do so many years ago and were met by the family and friends who had always believed that this moment would come. Armed with diplomas, advice and ambition, 71 high school graduates embarked on a new journey in his or her lives last night.