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Graduates reflect on lessons learned in high school

The ‘West Way’ had meaning for many of the seniors

Cherry Hill West seniors sat in alternating rows of white and purple for their graduation on June 22, a ceremony that featured six valedictorians: Caleb Williams, NIle Kolenovec, Jefferey Tang, Aziza Ben Abdallah, Owen Rondeau and Anthony Segrest.

Throughout the graduation, students and staff reminisced about the past four years and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. Many of them shared what the “West Way” meant to them.

Senior Anna Lisa Patti reflected on how the class had to perform the school musical over Zoom, rain on the senior prom, Friday night lights, and making it to state championships when it didn’t matter if they lost.

“The unbreakable bonds supported by unforgettable memories, that is what we’re going to cherish forever,” she said.

Student government representative Ava Buoanno shared a personal story about the lessons she learned after one classmate told her, “Nobody likes you.” Though she initially tried to conform and blend in, she realized she was miserable.

“Every day that I pushed myself to be more like everyone else, I was getting further and further from all the things that made me me,” she recalled. “My humor was gone, my personality was fading and my assertiveness was quieting. I felt stranded  and I didn’t like who I was becoming. 

“It wasn’t until after many many talks with myself that something profoundly changed,” Buoanno added. “The degree to which I cared, or to say, didn’t care, changed.”

Buoanno said she came to the striking realization that she would much rather be disliked for being herself than loved for being what others thought she should be. She would rather be disliked for standing for her own convictions than tolerated for having nothing valuable to say.

“My advice is this: Stay true to yourself,” Buoanno advised. “Value your own thoughts, stand up for your own beliefs, pursue what you want for yourself in this life and surround yourself with people who accept you for who you are, who support and encourage you along the path of self- discovery.”

Principal Dr. Toni Damon praised the class for its resilience and encouraged them to continue being fearless in the face of adversity.

“It is crystal clear how as a community, you have rallied together to weather the devastation of coronavirus to make it here today,” she said. “ … What I want you to remember most was not what was lost, but what was gained despite the loss.” 

Williams, one of the valedictorians, talked about the last assignment given to him by his English teacher, Carole Roskophe, on the book, “The Things They Carried,” and how he had to share what important things he would carry in a 25- pound backpack.

The last item he mentioned in the secret pocket of his backpack was a rock.

“We all carry meaningless rocks,” Williams said. “Things we hold onto unnecessarily, things that do nothing that weigh us down. For most of us, it is impossible to fully let go of this darkness.

“ … And while these burdens don’t fully go away, we can share these rocks (with each other) and come to terms with them.”

This article was updated on June 27 to correct a quote previously attributed to Trinity Echeverria to Anna Lisa Patti. 

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