The sound of cheers, air horns and cowbells echoed across Ackerson Field on June 20, as hundreds gathered to watch the Hopewell Valley Central High School Class of 2018 receive their diplomas and take the field as newly minted high school graduates.
According to Principal Tana Smith, students are going “far and wide” after graduation. Some students will be attending Ivy League schools, including University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, Princeton and Brown. Locally, students will attend schools such as The College of New Jersey, Stockton University and University of Delaware. Others will travel to California, Oregon, South Carolina and Washington to further their education, she said.
Other students, Smith said, have opted to attend technical schools, such as Rochester Institute of Technology, Stevens Institute of Technology and Worcester Poly Tech. The Class of 2018 also has students who will be enlisting in the Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine Academy, Smith said.
Before the 320 graduates walked across the stage, they were met with words of encouragement from local officials, and reminisced on past achievements with their peers.
Graduate Samantha Barnes encouraged her classmates to live out their dreams, no matter how complicated they may seem, and to “use their voices.”
Barnes said that one of her passions is for the environment — she seldom sees toads anymore, an animal she and her brother would “catch” on their driveway.
“I dream big, and came up with a plan,” she said. “Work for the United Nations Environment Programme. That’s what each of us have to do. Go out there, find your passion and fight for it.”
This fight is something that the Class of 2018 has exemplified throughout the year, Barnes said, as they have worked to start various clubs, raise $125,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and organize a school-wide walk-out to protest gun violence.
Barnes closed her speech by urging her classmates to find their voice again as they enter a new chapter in their lives.
“We are on the cusp of creating great change,” she said. “Get out there — cure cancer, fight for our country, save the world. Because we are the voices of our future.”
Vice Principal Scott Brettell presented graduates Max Wills and Catherine Zhang with the awards of valedictorian and salutatorian.
In his speech, Wills took the time to reflect on the class’ accomplishments.
Every year, he said, the Class of 2018 has had the highest number of recipients of the Principals High Academic Honor Award. The robotics team has competed in several regional competitions and won two awards for creativity, he added. Additionally, the baseball team won the Mercer County Tournament for the first time in school history.
“This list is only a small sample of what we have achieved over the last four years, and it is not a product of mere luck or coincidence,” Wills said. “No matter what path you take, always remember what you have achieved thus far.”
Representing the Hopewell and Pennington communities, Mayor of Pennington Borough Anthony Persichilli offered various pieces of advice for the students to take with them beyond graduation.
“Not knowing the answer to [‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’] as a child is expected, but as you get older, there’s more pressure to decide what you’re going to be,” he said. “While it’s great to know the answer to that now, it’s OK if you don’t — sorry, parents.”
Persichilli added that it is more “valuable” for one to know who they want to be, as opposed to what they want to be. Once that is solved, he said, “the rest will follow.”
Alyce Murray, President of the Board of Education, addressed the students, congratulated them on their successes and detailed her personal experiences of watching them grow up in the school district.
“Seven years ago, I stood in the back of the Tollgate Elementary cafeteria serving spaghetti, meatballs and cake to some of you and your families as you stepped up from your tiny elementary school to attend Timberlane Middle School,” she said. “I marveled at your open minds to the big adventures.”
Murray commended the students who have took to the Board of Education with the hopes of starting clubs — such as Diversity Club — as well as those who have attended board meetings to voice their opinions and concerns.
She prompted the graduates to embrace their own, and others’, individuality, as well.
“Continue to celebrate the uniqueness in you and what sets you apart,” she said. “Most importantly, celebrate the uniqueness in others. You will be the future leaders that truly make this world a better place.”
The graduation ceremony closed with musical performances by Hopewell Valley Chamber Singers, Ragazze and covers of the Phillip Phillips songs “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Home,” arranged by graduate Konstanza Kovalev.
As the sun set on Ackerson Field, the graduates tossed their caps into the air, signifying the end of their high school careers.
“Please always take pride in where you come from,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas A. Smith said. “Your experiences here in Hopewell Valley, the people you’ve met and the communities in which you grew up in all go a long way to shaping you as a person.”