Approximately 90 students from Commonwealth Connections Academy gathered Tuesday at Penn's Peak to mark their high school graduation.
"This is a family celebration," said Chief Education Officer (CEO) Dr. Maurice Flurie III, who offered the commencement address. "We are celebrating the graduates, but we are also celebrating the families and friends who have encouraged them."
Flurie encouraged the graduates to do great things regardless of their long-term goals, whether those plans include college, a career or even parenthood.
"Don't just be satisfied with a high school diploma from CCA," he added. "We expect more. They've had a really unique educational experience, and we expect them to do great things."
The Class of 2013 was represented by two student speakers, Kathryn Borne and Emily La Bianca.
"School has taught me that even though it can seem to be just a never-ending string of tests and papers, it's surprisingly good preparation for whatever is out in the world," said Borne, who plans to major in journalism at Baptist Bible College. "It taught me to manage time and schedules, but most importantly, it taught me that to get what I want, I have to want the struggle to get there too, even if that struggle means changing who I am as a person."
Borne assured her fellow graduates that the struggle would be worth it, and that their hard work would pay off.
"This is us, taking initiative. This is us, making choices. Don't you want to keep pushing and pulling and fighting until you have what you dream about? ... Do not believe that without work, you can come away with anything you want. This country was not built on the idea that we can sit back and reap rewards for nothing. It takes work. Even though at times it will seem like you never have free time, or your life is too packed, think about what you've earned because of it. Your determination drives you," she added.
La Bianca shared the story of her first days and weeks at CCA, where she enrolled in her junior year after being home-schooled. She had a rocky start, not understanding what she was supposed to do and accidentally submitting an assignment that wasn't yet completed earning a D-.
"I wasn't alone that day, though. Everywhere I looked, there was somebody waiting to help me out teachers, faculty, and fellow students, some of whom eventually became my greatest friends in CCA. ... You've been awesome, every one of you, and I'd like to sincerely thank you for turning one very stressful day into two amazing years."
La Bianca also spoke of needing extra help in algebra, and telling her teachers that she couldn't complete the problems. By the end of the year, with a bit of extra help from her teachers, she was not only completing the assignments but enjoying them. She now plans to attend Messiah College this fall, majoring in history. Her long-term plans include attending law school.
"That's what the simple mindset of confidence did for me. If there is one thing I hope to take away from my experience at CCA, it's confidence. A new life begins for us today, right now, and there will be plenty of challenges and hurtles in the road ahead. We will run into them and when we do, it'll be tempting to stop, give up or even turn around. But if we have a mindset of confidence, we'll take one look at that seemingly insurmountable obstacle and think, 'I can climb that.' We won't measure its great height with fear and anxiety, but instead with the giddy anticipation of how great it will feel once we get to the top."
Last night's ceremony was one of four graduation ceremonies offered for CCA graduates throughout the state. It was a chance for the cyberschool students to meet in person, and for family members to meet fellow cyber school parents. While many students have met in field activities through the school, it was the first chance that the class had to gather as a group.
"The kids have made connections through their online classrooms, but it's nice to meet face-to-face," said Flurie. "This is their chance to get to know the other students in their region."
Graduations were also held in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg. Each ceremony was also streamed live online for friends and family who could not attend in person. Each of the four programs ended with a family-oriented celebration including food, music and entertainment.
Commonwealth Connections Academy is a public cyber school with more than 7,000 students across the state of Pennsylvania. Approximately 585 CCA students received their diplomas this year.