St. Clair High School Class of 2013 Valedictorian Jonah Pfeiffer challenged his fellow graduates to look ahead and yet remember their past as they close one chapter in their lives and open another.
Pfeiffer, as the top academic student this year, gave a rousing speech as the St. Clair R-XIII School District conducted its annual high school commencement exercises on the athletic field behind the school.
In all, 138 seniors earned diplomas and received them in front of a packed stadium.
“Throughout my life in St. Clair, a lot of the people I have talked to always say how they cannot wait to get away from this town, and I really don’t understand why,” Pfeiffer said. “This is our hometown. This is where we all grew up, and it’s made us who we are, and that’s something we should never forget.
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever leave. I hope that each one of us accomplishes great things and ends up exactly where we want to be. But you never should forget where you came from.
“This town will always be special to me.”
Prior to those words, Pfeiffer had mentioned the importance of what was taking place on Thursday night.
“This is a moment we will remember for the rest of our lives, and there is not another group of people I would rather be experiencing it with,” he said. “Graduation is a moment that will change our lives forever. From this day on, we are St. Clair High School graduates, and that’s something we should take pride in.
“But it’s also something that we should use as motivation to continue to better ourselves and achieve great success. No matter what your future plans are, it is important to realize that life is just beginning. ... High school was only just the beginning, and I hope you are all as excited and optimistic as I am to start the next chapter of your life.”
Pfeiffer and Salutatorian Jessica Perkins were two of 23 students who graduated with academic honors either as cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude.
The eight other members of the top 10 were, in order, Trevor Donnelly, Chris Kahlenbeck, Hayden Norton, Ben Suntrup, Amanda Presley, Olesya Stadnichuk, Kay Light and Evan Powell.
Others who graduated with distinction were Ben Bardot, David Barrett, Ayden Carey, Neyko Dominguez, Alisha Hinkle, Kayla Klenke, Jacob Meisel, Nicole Nardi, Bethany Quigley, Emily Rogers, Laura Smith, Taylor Townsend and Josh Woodcock.
During the processional, SCHS senior Hannah Hampton was surprised by her older brother, 2011 SCHS graduate Caleb Hampton, who received leave from his stint in the U.S. Navy to attend the ceremony.
Hannah Hampton did not know her brother was home until she saw him as she marched onto the football field.
Caleb had flowers for his sister, but she whispered to him, “Not now.”
They exchanged a quick hug and the processional continued.
After Thursday’s processional, members of the SCHS Air Force Junior ROTC posted the colors.
Outgoing Principal Kevin Hillman then welcomed everyone to the ceremony.
“I am excited to be here at St. Clair High School’s graduation night,” he said. “It is always a special evening, but even more so this year. I am also excited to have been blessed to have had the opportunity to work with such a great group of students as this senior class.”
“There were many tremendous highs this year for our school and there were some terrible lows. This class was asked to be leaders and to help with a difficult year. They have answered that request by me, and I will forever be grateful. They are a big reason of a better future for our school.”
After Dylan Hammer gave the invocation, Superintendent Mike Murphy delivered a short commencement address.
He, too, touched on the difficulties of the academic year.
“This year was a challenging year with emotional highs and low points, and I am proud of each of you for overcoming the challenges we faced and making this a great school year,” he said.
Murphy then looked toward the horizon.
“Students, tonight you will become graduates and you will begin a new journey,” he said. “You will make choices. ... I encourage each of you to set goals and strive to overcome the obstacles that get in your way.
“If given the opportunity to lead, remain humble. When given the opportunity to follow, be bold and question who you follow. The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.
“Serve others with confidence and accept the challenge of leadership during your journey of life. You will never regret it.”
Murphy ended his remarks by saying, “Congratulations to the Class of 2013. May God richly bless you and your families.”
After Perkins and Pfeiffer spoke, Hillman presented the Class of 2013, and the diplomas were distributed.
As the tassels were turned, the SCHS tradition of launching multiple sprays of Silly String took place as hugs and hand shakes were exchanged.
Participating seniors then took off for Project Graduation.
The official last day of school is next Tuesday, May 21.