Michelle Graf certainly would not have missed the opportunity to walk on her graduation day recently at Seneca High School.
The Shamong resident, after all, had yet to miss a day of school since pre-kindergarten.
“I just never really was sick enough to stay out of school. By the time I was halfway through middle school I took it as a challenge and wanted to keep going through high school,” explained Michelle.
There were certainly times, however, when she did want to stay home from school.
In particular, the entire expanse of senior year.
“I just wanted to stay home,” she admitted. “I’m excited to get out of (high) school.”
Soon, she will be heading up to Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, where, if she feels under the weather, she plans to miss class.
“Once I’m sick in college, I’m staying in bed,” she said.
Clerical errors through the years threatened to steal away her attendance crown.
“I knew I was there every day but I’d like to have it official,” she said, for the bragging rights.
In grade school, she was marked absent one day in April. Her mother, Sue, told her to locate proof that she was actually there that day.
Luckily, Michelle was able to find a test she had taken.
During her eighth-grade year at Indian Mills Memorial School, she was a chaperone for the sixth-grade trip to Camp Ockanickon in Medford.
She, again, was marked absent.
“I had to get that straightened out,” said Sue.
As a freshman at Seneca High School, she had a doctor’s appointment. Sue signed her out two minutes prior to the end of the day and Michelle was subsequently deemed absent for the entire day.
“I was furious,” said Sue. “Don’t anger the momma bear.”
That situation was fixed as well, with Michelle receiving her perfect attendance certificate for ninth-grade in her senior year.
School officials were able to confirm that she did indeed never miss a day, and they vividly remembered her goal.
Michelle first attended Joyful Noise pre-school in Marlton and followed it up with Beeler Elementary School in Marlton. In 2003, her family moved to Shamong. She picked up her schooling at Indian Mills Elementary School, moved up to Indian Mills Memorial School and graduated from Seneca High School on Wednesday, June 13.
When she gets into a routine and sets a goal, there is no talking her out of it, explained Sue.
So, where did her drive originate?
“Certainly not me!” Sue laughed.
Michelle’s grandmother on her father’s side had perfect attendance from first-grade through the end of high school, she said.
“I guess she takes after her grandmother,” said Sue, “which is actually a great compliment.”
In school, Michelle was active in several activities.
“I was involved in the marching band. I was in the color guard and the rifle line,” she said.
She was also the writing editor for Seneca’s literary magazine, “Insight,” which compiled students’ art, poems and short stories.
Amy Rominiecki, Seneca’s library media specialist, worked with Michelle on a daily basis at “Insight.”
“She is extremely witty, very organized, and always willing to help. I also know I can count on her to get things done!” said Rominiecki. “Besides putting the magazine together, Michelle has also had many works accepted into the magazine for publication. Her thoughtful and well-written poetry is an inspiration to our student body.”
Last year, she chose Michelle to receive a People’s Choice award.
“For this award, each staff member at Seneca selects one student per year who made a lasting impression on us,” Rominiecki explained. “This student is honored at a ceremony and receives a medal to wear at graduation. I selected Michelle because she made an impact on me with her polite manners, strong determination, her willingness to help others, her dedication, and, most importantly, that she made me smile every day.”
In college, Michelle plans to major in English Literature to become a high school English teacher.
Eventually, her career goal is to become a guidance counselor after seeing how much her high school counselor, Dave Lafferty, was able to positively impact her life.
Now that she’s completed her goal of perfect attendance, Michelle can focus on her next mission: staying together with her boyfriend of nearly two years.
“She’s wonderful,” said her boyfriend John Panico. “We’ve gone on a couple outings, adventures, whatever, typical couple, and we survived my first year in college, and that’s just another goal that she set and I went with it.”
When Sue exclaimed that she was worried that her daughter would be a “nerd,” Michelle rebutted, “We are nerds.”
As she enters the next chapter, Sue radiates motherly pride.
“I’m just so proud of her,” she said. “She’s just a great kid.”