Harry Notes - I cut this story out of the Pottsville Republican. I taught at Panther Valley for 33 years - from 1970 to 2003. When I started there - we were graduating about 120 a year. This year there are 94. I have been away from PVJ for 8 years - the names and faces are the same - they are just the kids and grandkids of my students. Heck- even the superintendent was in my first science class back in 1970. Times marches on - it feels like a different world now. I took those kids on bus trips to Florida - Philadelphia - and Washington. I remember things like my bus being pulled over by a state cop because he wanted to tell the kids that I had taken him on similar trips. I remember deejaying dances and painting maps on the floor. I remember the Space Shuttle blowing up on the classroom TV and the World Trade Center collapsing. It was fun being Uncle Harry.
The sky lit up from bolts of lightning accompanied by claps of thunder as parents dropped off graduates in a pouring rain and hurried to find a parking space at Panther Valley High School on Thursday.
Graduation ceremonies began a few minutes past 7 p.m. and the 94 members of the class of 2011 eventually made its way to the stage as "Pomp and Circumstance" could be heard thanks to pianist Audrey Christ.
Dylan Smith, class president, welcomed those attending the ceremony and called on the words of Jean Paul Richter, who said, "Our memories are the only paradise from which we can never be expelled."
He also remembered a friend, Casey Williams, who graduated from Panther Valley in 2009 and lost his battle with cancer last February at the age of 20.
Smith recalled that Williams taught him an important life lesson: to not live with any regrets.
"If you want something don't sit around and wait for it, take it," Smith told his classmates. He urged them to make the most of the time they have on earth.
John Owens delivered the salutatorian speech. He quoted American writer Joseph Campbell, saying "Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging,"
He urged his classmates to embrace the opportunity when challenges are provided.
He noted that his classmates stood up to a challenge to improve the school's standardized test scores and he pointed out they did so with ease.
"May we step forward today, cross the bridge, and apply the lessons of yesterday to all of our tomorrows. And may the world serve as the stage for all your future success," Owens said.
Valedictorian Jason Gates started by saying he tore up his original speech because when he read it to himself it was boring. Instead, he compared the advice of old sitcoms on television in the 1950s and early 1960s and how they can apply to the class.
In one "Leave it to Beaver" episode, the Beaver decided to skip school but, as usual, his mother found out and brought him to school.
The Beaver's teacher tells him something that should stick with all.
"It's just as though you took a day out of your life and threw it away," Gates said.
Gates looked at his class and said, "We should all remember that our days in life are limited and no matter how tempting it may be we should resist idle distractions and focus on what we need for success in the long run."
He mentioned the show "Gilligan's Island " and how people can identify with each person stranded on that island.
"Gilligan's Island shows us how life rarely turns out how we expect it and how we often get thrown into situations with people we have little in common with," Gates said. "But those differences can be overcome to work well with people around you."
After remarks from district Superintendent Rosemary Porembo and Principal Joseph Gunnels, graduating class president Dylan Smith passed on the school colors to the junior class, a tradition on graduation night.
The seniors received their diplomas and the school alma mater was sung as the graduates filed out of the auditorium.