Northeastern valedictorian: 'Find your passion'

John Joyce

The 204 members of Northeastern High School's graduating class turned their tassels at dusk Tuesday on the 50-yard line of the Bobcats' football field before a stadium filled with family and friends.

More than $1.5 million in athletic and academic scholarships were awarded to this year's senior class, Principal Matthew Gay said.

"I think we had 14 or 15 kids signed to play athletics," he said. Another dozen are committed to serving their country in the nation's various military branches, he added.

Matthew Schaeffer gives a thumbs-up to teachers and administrators after receiving his diploma during Northeastern High School's commencement Tuesday, May 31, 2016.
John A. Pavoncello photo

In a final address to fellow graduates, valedictorian Christopher Lee asked how each defined success. He encouraged his classmates to embrace their individual paths.

"First, find your passion and surround yourself with that passion," he said. "Some of us want to be doctors or lawyers, others want to become the next star on Broadway. Some of us want to become engineers or teachers, and others want to become a professional athlete. Whatever the passion may be, we must put ourselves in every possible position to live and breathe it every day."

Second, he said, understand mistakes are part of the larger plan. Minor failures are gateways to larger successes, he said.

"Finally, pay attention to the victories along the way," Lee said. "Celebrate these victories and enjoy the feelings they afford us."

Drew Wolfgang rolls through the hallways of Northeastern High School one last time before commencement Tuesday,  May 31, 2016.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Retiring teachers Anita Truax and Lloyd Douglas were honored during Tuesday's ceremony, as was guidance office secretary Wanda Salisbury.

Douglas, a 40-year veteran, was greeted with two standing ovations, first from the graduates and then from the audience, many of whom also had been taught by Douglas during his tenure at Northeastern.

Gay asked both Truax and Douglas to the stage to be celebrated for their hard work and the innumerable lives they had touched. He then turned his attention back to the graduating class.

"Class of 2016, you have made it this far with your hard work, your grit and determination, and probably with some good luck," he told the graduates.

"For some of you, a whole lot of good luck," he said, sending a chuckle through the audience.

Kenny Kopp works his mortarboard over his mohawk before the start of the Northeastern High School commencement Tuesday,  May 31, 2016.
John A. Pavoncello photo

But not to be scoffed at are the achievements of Northeastern High School, recently ranked 75th in the state by U.S. News out of 650 public and private Pennsylvania schools. The high school was ranked by the Washington Post as one of the nation's most challenging based on the number of advanced courses offered, test scores, ethnic enrollment and percentage of students — in this case 50 percent — who go on to attend four-year universities.

"Raising the bar," Gay said. Northeastern kids routinely talk about the rigor and relationships fostered at the school, he added.

"And support. They are the three pieces. We're very fortunate," Gay said.