Panther Valley students told ‘dreams can come true’
Hailey Henninger, wearing a blue National Honor Society sash, takes in Friday's graduation ceremonies at Panther Valley Junior-Senior High School. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
Panther Valley graduates listen to the speakers during commencement on Friday. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
Panther Valley High School held graduation ceremonies Friday night. CHRIS REBER/TIMES NEWS
While she spent late nights laboring over her assignments at Panther Valley, Rachelle Filer sometimes felt like Cinderella.
Sometimes, she got bored of her provincial life like Belle from “Beauty and the Beast.” But she always viewed the little school as a diamond in the rough — just like Aladdin.
The valedictorian of Panther Valley Junior-Senior High School’s Class of 2019 found inspiration in the beloved Disney movies when she wrote her address.
“Walt Disney once said ‘All of our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.’ That was true during Walt Disney’s time, and it still holds true to this very day and for the days to come, especially for my fellow classmates,” she said.
Filer and her classmates celebrated Friday night as Panther Valley Junior-Senior High School held its annual commencement exercises in the high school auditorium. It was the 55th commencement for the Panther Valley School District.
Filer showed incredible strength while mourning her father, James, a beloved Panther Valley teacher who died earlier this week. She recalled his nickname for her — Little Schwinkie Girl. Principal Joseph Gunnels said James Filer had mentored thousands of youth in his decades at Panther Valley and the class had dedicated the ceremony to his memory.
Rachelle Filer and salutatorian Erica Tout both reminisced about the deep bond that the class developed while cheering for each other’s sports teams in ‘the black hole,’ the school’s student cheering section.
Filer said some bonds are stronger than the one between Toy Story’s Buzz and Woody.
Tout recalled the exhilarating feeling of cheering on the sports teams, spending countless hours with classmates who became friends, learning from teachers, and attending a school small enough that you knew everyone’s name.
“It will be a difficult task to part with you after having spent so many amazing moments together,” she said. Tout used the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald to encourage her classmates to live a life of purpose and pride. She encouraged them to take chances, find adventures, and discover new things.
“No matter where you go and what path you take, I hope that you all make choices that come from a deep sense of who you are, choices that allow you to be the best person you can be,” she said.
Superintendent Dennis Kergick thanked parents for entrusting the district with their students. He then turned to his traditional graduation address emphasizing service to others.
He told the graduates that there will be opportunities in life to assist or support someone, and he hopes that they will realize that no one achieves anything alone.
“By serving others you are provided the opportunity to make a meaningful difference to share your unique gifts and traits,” he said. “Please do so without the expectation of personal gain.”
Kergick said he hopes that the class pursues their own satisfaction and that love supports them through all of life’s trials and tribulations.
“Most of all I hope that you experience happiness and joy daily. Please understand that only you hold the key to your happiness,” he said.