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PV seniors overcome the odds

A few raindrops and clouds were nothing compared to the adversity the Panther Valley Class of 2020 faced when they lost the last three months of their senior year to coronavirus.

So when they gathered under stormy skies Friday night at Panther Valley Stadium, the graduates were undaunted by the weather.

As co-valedictorian Thaddeus Karnish said in his address, the year has been a unique experience which no other class can relate to.

“Just as we did for this ceremony we must keep moving forward, no matter what happens. Life will throw many obstacles in our journey, but that is no reason to quit. Rather, I encourage all of you to see it as a chance to adapt and grow,” Karnish said.

The outdoor graduation ceremony was the first for Panther Valley in a decade.

The graduates practiced social distancing throughout the ceremony. In order to make the ceremony comply with the state’s limits on gatherings during COVID-19, the audience was split in half. Parents of graduates with last names ending in A-K watched the first half of the ceremony before leaving the stadium. Then the rest of the parents got to come in to see their graduates receive their diplomas.

It was the first time that the class was all together since March, when they were sent home for what was initially just two weeks.

“It’s been hard but getting to see everyone now kind of makes up for everything,” said Meghan Boyle. The graduates said they expected to return to the classroom at some point this year. Though it was tough to accept that their senior year was over early, the students have remained upbeat.

“We were all joking about it at first, then we came to the realization we weren’t going back. We kept in touch, and we haven’t lost touch with anybody,” said Blake White.

Co-valedictorian Gianna Steber encouraged her classmates to remember highlights. She mentioned the girls volleyball team’s Schuylkill League Championship, singing the alma mater after the boys basketball team earned a trip to the district finals, talent shows, and prom. She included the parade held earlier this month to celebrate the Class of 2020.

Quoting Maya Angelou, Steber said that they will remember the emotions they felt, long after memories of the words people said, and the things they did have faded.

“People will not remember when you stumbled on the words of your presentations. People won’t remember when you tripped walking out onto the field during Meet the Panthers night. However, what they will not forget is how you made them feel. Whether good or bad, people will never forget the feelings they had in high school or the situations that changed them,” Steber said.

It was the final graduation ceremony for principal Joseph Gunnels and Superintendent Dennis Kergick, who are both retiring.

In his remarks, Kergick said he has tried to provide a consistent message to graduates: to serve others, because no one accomplishes anything alone.

“By serving others you are provided the opportunity to make a meaningful difference to share your unique gifts and traits. Please do so without the expectation of personal gain,” he said.

In his speech, co-valedictorian Karnish relied upon the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, reminding the class to “above all, try something.”

He said like the path to the graduation ceremony, they will face obstacles in life. Those obstacles are a chance to grow.

“Stay focused, try new methods, and show that nothing will stop. It is always better to try and fail than to never fail because you never tried,” Karnish said.

The Panther Valley Class of 2020 gathers at the school stadium Friday night for the first outdoor ceremony in a decade. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS