Bryce Dershem and Arianna Reischer, who have known each other since elementary school and have been friends throughout high school, graduated June 17 as valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, for Eastern Regional High School’s Class of 2021.
Over the past four years, they’ve learned many things. Dershem has discovered his love of poetry and art. The biggest thing he’ll miss when he graduates is meetings with the Poetry Club every Thursday, talking and creating with others. Dershem shared that the club members and the teachers who run it, Mrs. Susan Pomerantz and Mrs. Patrice Steller, have been huge inspirations.
“It’s just this incredible community of artists and people who just really care about literature and poetry and all come together and just create something incredible at the end of the year,” he enthused. “They have shown me what it means to support someone, what it means to listen to someone, what it means to care about someone and care about their work as a writer or an artist.
“They just truly inspire me.”
During his time at Eastern, Dershem was also involved with the Academic Challenge Team and Chess Club. His favorite classes senior year were art (even though it was virtual) and AP English. He will continue his education in the fall at Tufts University in Massachusetts, where he will study French literature and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies
Both Dershem and Reischer were surprised to hear the news that they had been named valedictorian and salutatorian, as they had both chosen to focus on things other than grades for the last few years of school.
“Academically speaking, I would say my first three years at Eastern, I had this mindset where I needed to take the hardest possible classes I could take and the most advanced courses and everything,” Dershem explained. “And then this past year, there was a lot going on and it kind of just hit me: That’s not the point. … What I really cared about in high school, and what was important to me was developing a love of learning, and developing a passion for things that I’m interested in, and trying to break from this idea that you always have to be achieving something.”
Reischer had a similar attitude toward learning; she had to take a step back and reprioritize her mental health in sophomore year. After focusing so intently on the grades and numbers before, she changed her focus to doing things for herself, making friends, playing flute and joining clubs.
Reischer’s high-school experience was filled with music: She plays flute and piccolo, and has been a part of nearly every ensemble other than orchestra; including the wind ensemble and marching band. They were welcome respites from the daily stresses of school.
Reischer is also deeply interested in programming and S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.) She will attend Temple University to study flute performance and computer science.
She’s learned a lot over the past year as a member of the 2021 class, and from being in high school during a pandemic.
“I wish I could tell you that I was able to push through it and keep trying as hard as I did when I was in school, but that just didn’t happen, and I don’t think it’s realistic to expect students to push through just as much,” Resischer reflected.
“I am proud of myself and my class for still being here and getting through because it is commendable,” she added. “We’ve never experienced anything quite like this, and we’ve made it. For better or for worse.”
As advice for underclassmen, Dershem stressed the importance of prioritizing mental health and not losing sight of what’s important.
“ I think it’s important to keep track of yourself and make sure you’re doing okay, and that you’re following a path that you’re comfortable with,” he offered. “You can always make changes, you can always do these things. It’s just so important to ask for help when you need it. Believe in others, believe in yourself.”
Reischer offered another perspective.
“The sunsets are really beautiful from the back lots of Eastern,” she suggested. “You should go and see them when you think you don’t have the time for it. That’s my advice.”