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Pleasant Valley class focuses on perseverance

Like the unpredictability of last year, Friday night didn’t disappoint.

All day, the gray skies left everyone wondering if it would rain on Pleasant Valley High School’s outdoor graduation at the stadium.

Despite the steady droplets, family, friends, teachers, staff and onlookers were filled with pride, joy, hope and a few tears as the 307-member Class of 2021 processed in to receive their diplomas.

High school Principal Matthew Triolo summed up the class with one word: perseverance. He said that word kept coming to his mind when he thought of them.

“To persevere means to continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty with little or no prospect of success. Continue in a course of action in the face of difficulty … I don’t know if any other sentence defines this group more,” he said.

“You missed the last quarter of your junior year … we opened up this school year in the hybrid format that only allowed you to come to school two out of five days, and on those two days if you walked the wrong way down a one-way hallway, or your mask happened to slip a fraction of an inch below your nose, our staff was on you like the fastest lion you’ve ever seen tracking down a gazelle.”

Triolo also honored the perseverance of one of their classmates, Schyler Herman, who lost her battle with leukemia in 2018. He presented an honorary diploma to her parents Michael and Sherrie Herman.

“In the end, her perseverance captivated an entire community, and yours, the Class of 2021’s, keeps her memory alive now and forever here at Pleasant Valley,” he said. “SchylerStrong - we will never forget. I can’t promise any of you that you will not face adversity as strong as this past year again in your life, but I can promise you that you are prepared to face it head on. Class of 2021 - you are driven, you are unique, you are battle tested, and most importantly, you are special.”

This year’s valedictorian was Emma Barrett, and the salutatorian was Jaxon Havens. Both were active members in the school’s Future Business Leaders of America Club, as were all of the class officers.

Havens thanked all of his teachers, but specifically mentioned FBLA adviser Denise Hopely, as well as Ann Parham and Dan and Marcie Mulligan in his speech. He thanked them for giving him great opportunities in leadership and service.

“I couldn’t have gotten here without some very important people,” he said.

Both Havens and Barrett plan to attend Yale University in the fall. Barrett intends to major in environmental studies, and Havens intends to major in molecular, cellular and developmental biology.

Barrett’s valedictorian address focused on opportunity.

“We are often told to carpe diem or seize the day in Latin. I think our class has done that brilliantly, but I’ve come to realize that taking opportunities is simply insufficient,” she said.

Barrett said, up to this point, much of their lives has been laid out for them.

“After tonight, though, we don’t have that. In a few moments, we will exchange the comfort of school for reality,” she said.

For some people, this newfound independence and step forward into adulthood can be scary, but Barrett told her classmates it’s an opportunity to expand and discover their path.

“Opportunity is more like a Russian nesting doll. All of the dolls are different sizes, but they are dolls nonetheless. Every action you take to improve your environment is a creation of an opportunity,” she said.

Barrett went on to say, “I wanted to share the best piece of wisdom I have ever received: You can obtain anything you want if you ask for it. This phrase is a broad simplification, yet I have found it to be true. You never get anything by simply asking, but showing a willingness to do something goes a long way. Ask for the chance to learn new skills, seek mentorship with people you admire, speak up about problems you encounter.”

Barrett concluded her speech by circling back to the Latin phrase with which she started.

“I can’t tell you how to proceed once you leave this field, but I would like to leave you with a new favorite phrase of mine: creare diem. It means ‘create the day’ in Latin,” she said. “Wherever you go and whatever you do, make the environment better than you found it. It does not matter how messy or complicated your path is. Though you may not encounter what you want, you always have the potential to make it. And that, my friends, is the beauty of creation.”

Valedictorian Emma Barrett gives her address during the graduation ceremony Friday night at the Pleasant Valley High School stadium. KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS
Emma Barrett, Pleasant Valley High School valedictorian.
Jaxon Havens, Pleasant Valley High School salutatorian.
Pleasant Valley High School Class of 2021 officers lead the class toward their graduation Friday night at the high school stadium. Tyler Moore and Kyli Ramsay are in the front, followed by Jonathan Feldman and Jack Kaye. KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS
Salutatorian Jaxon Havens and valedictorian Emma Barrett process in with their class during the graduation ceremony Friday night at the Pleasant Valley High School stadium. KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS
Pleasant Valley High School graduates process into the stadium during the graduation ceremony Friday night. KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS
The Pleasant Valley High School Class of 2021 receives their diplomas in a light rain Friday night at the stadium, KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS