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Lehighton grads ready to embrace paths

Chloe Gustafson was convinced she would be a microbiologist.

Then, the Lehighton Area High School Class of 2024 president and valedictorian took a photography class that reignited her passion for the arts and led to what she termed a “life changing decision.”

“The transition between my junior and senior year taught me that my life is not complete when I’m not creating anything,” she said during the school’s 139th commencement ceremony on Tuesday night.

Gustafson decided to follow her heart, declaring, “To truly fulfill my life, I need to center it around art,” leading her to pursue fashion design at Albright College.

While many in the 122-member class may have an idea of what they want to do with their life, Gustafson urged them to “to consider all the paths available, shut out external pressures, and choose the one that feels right for them.”

“There are so many paths laid out for every one of you,” she said. “Look at all of them and shut out what anyone else says that you should do, then go towards the one that feels right. And if your path changes along the way, you can always continue to work towards something new. It will never be too late to become the person you want to be.”

Salutatorian Koy Wentz took the stage with a speech that resonated deeply with the audience. He thanked his family and friends for their unwavering support and drew a poignant parallel between life and NASCAR racing, one of his passions.

“You don’t want to burn out your engine in the beginning, when you have so much race left to run,” Wentz said.

He highlighted the importance of perseverance, balance, and a strong support system, much like a racecar driver relies on their team.

“In life, having a network of friends, family, and colleagues can be equally important for achieving one’s goals,” he added.

Principal Sue Howland spoke about the enduring values of community, integrity, and hard work that define Lehighton.

“In the Lehighton area, we support each other through thick and thin. This sense of community teaches us that we are stronger together and that collaboration and compassion can overcome any challenge,” she said.

Howland urged the graduates to carry these values forward, stating,

“Lehighton sticks with Lehighton,” she said. “You can change what you do and where you live - but you cannot change where you are from - remember you are from the Lehighton area and you should carry that as a badge of honor.”

The Class of 1974 returned to Lehighton on Tuesday night to celebrate their 50th reunion.

“Be a positive influence to those around you and remember, a smile can go a long way,” Bob Shaffer, Class of 1974 member, told the current graduates. “I can’t believe it has been 50 years since we have been out of high school. Time flies. Take time to appreciate all life has to offer.”

Chloe Gustafson, Lehighton Area High School Class of 2024 president and valedictorian, addresses her classmates during commencement Tuesday night.
Robert Dwojewski poses for a picture after receiving his diploma Tuesday night from Lehighton Area High School. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS
From left, Elizabeth Buffington, Iris Zheng and Abby Bauder hang out in the Lehighton Area High School cafeteria prior to Tuesday night's commencement ceremony. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS
Members of the Lehighton Area High School Class of 2024 reach under their seats for notes left by their teachers near the end of Tuesday night's commencement ceremony. JARRAD HEDES/TIMES NEWS