Three-hundred-and-sixty-five Cherry Hill West graduates lined up in orderly rows of white and purple on June 19 as they waited in the Liacouras Center at Temple University for their commencement.
In their speeches, students offered heartfelt thanks to the people who supported them over the years. Senior Sara Genna Cole kicked off the ceremony with a story about the fire she has experienced in her life – both literally and figuratively – and how it will live on in each of the students.
“We all have that fire inside us that drives, motivates and empowers us in the face of adversity,” she noted. “Every friendship, teacher, obstacle or even stranger in the hallway has shaped us today. Over these four years we have acquired the necessary tools to help us in our journey.
“Cherry Hill West has given you the tools, including the matches and the sticks to ignite the fire.”
The class had nine valedictorians: Jacob Carlson, Julia Green, Carolyn Kirk, Olivia Mazahra, Cher Ami Panis, Ronin Rogodo, Lizabeth Reyes, Julisa Rodriguez and Matthew Sonn. Lauryn Lomon was West’s salutatorian and 31 students graduated with the Seal of Biliteracy in Spanish, Chinese, Haitian Creole and French.
“When I returned to West this February of your senior year, I was anxious about the impacts of the challenges that you experienced and what those challenges had done to you,” said Acting Principal Dr. Kwame Morton. “My fear was that you had experienced so much trauma, that you lost the ‘West Way.’
“ … What I found was that the pandemic did alter your experience throughout the course of your four years at HS West, but it failed to crush the spirit of the West Way.”
Students surveyed defined that “way” with three things: kindness, diversity and legacy.
“At high school West, kindness is not just a word, but it’s a way of being and a way of life,” he explained. “With every step I take through the halls, I’m overwhelmed with the warm greetings and infectious smiles of our students.”
Valedictorian Reyes also reflected on the times students spent together as a community, like sitting in the pouring rain to watch their school beat Cherry Hill East at a homecoming game or traveling north to show their support for classmates.
“As my teacher Ms. (Carole) Roskophe said, ‘We all like to think we did it alone, but we all had an impact on each other, either directly or indirectly,’” Reyes said. “Each individual has their own unique perspective, and that’s something that can never be taken for granted.”
Outgoing Superintendent Dr. Joseph Meloche reiterated the importance of individual voices and perspectives in his final remarks to the school district.
“Please continue to develop your voices, to share them with the world,” he urged. “Remember that one of the most important parts of effectively sharing your voice and your identity lies in your ability to listen and to remember.
“ …Be a leader in your chosen path and be kind,” Meloche added. “Kindness matters. Use your words, your voice, and your abilities for good and always remember that as you move forward beyond high school, that you represent us.”