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State High Celebrates, Reflects at Graduation

by on June 08, 2014 7:45 AM

Time is a strange and wondrous thing for recent State High graduate Fredrick Zheng.

While the student president addressed his fellow soon-to-be State High alums on Saturday morning, he reflected on hearing adults tell him over and over how fast high school would come to an end.

Standing onstage at the Pegula Ice Arena and looking out at a grey and maroon sea of nearly 600 graduating students, Zheng said he realized everyone was right. It had gone fast.

Despite how it had quickly passed, its end somehow still seemed sudden. He was sure each classmate could remember weeks, even months, that had crawled by unbearably slowly.

“The funny thing is, they always came to an end,” Zheng mused. “Time no longer feels infinite." 

Some in the audience found themselves reflecting on time as well, like State College Area School District kindergarten teacher Cheryl Isola, who remembers teaching some of the graduating seniors how to read.

State College High School Associate Principal Curtis Johnson said the occasion was bittersweet, but ultimately a celebration. 

“[Graduation] is like letting your kids leave the nest; it comes with a sadness,” Johnson said. “But I know there’s a great group of kids coming up again next year and I’ll get to do it all again.”

Dalton Randolph also felt his graduation was bittersweet. Though the future is a film the aspiring moviemaker has yet to shoot, he found himself missing the time he’s spent with his friends he may no longer regularly see.

For parents, like Duane Bullock who felt “blessed to have family gathered for such a happy occasion,” the event was a joyous celebration.

Vitaly Manuilov, a fellow State College parent, also appreciated the opportunity to celebrate with his family. His daughter Darya was born in Sacramento after Manuilov had emigrated with his family from Russia. He now works as a commercial driver and drove from Washington to attend the commencement.

Jim Knachtman, a Penn State director of broadcast operations and parent of graduating senior Sarah, said some might have problems with the ceremony being held in the Pegula arena. Though normally held in the Bryce Jordan center, construction had required the event to be moved. Tickets for admittance were handed out  for the first time, according to SCASD spokeswoman Julie Miller.

“It’s a beautiful new venue, and this is a new beginning for these graduates,” Knachtman said. “What better place to walk across the stage and begin their lives? 

Class of 1976 State High graduate James Houck imparted words of wisdom to the students gathered on the arena floor. The former Navy lawyer, Penn State professor and School of International Affairs Dean of Law limited his advice to four characteristics to strive for: competence, creativity, courage, and compassion.

Competence, he explained, would ensure attention to detail and work ethic. Though creativity is perhaps the opposite of competence, creativity is “one of the great gifts we get as human beings.”

Courage includes the “everyday courage, emotional courage” to stay kind in the face of inevitable suffering and death. This leads to compassion, which is “a special form of respect for people who stumble and fall” that allows people to forgive.

Zheng’s excitement was apparent in his philosophy of taking each day and doing the most with time he feels lucky to have.  He told his fellow graduates that each day feels like a gift. Though he has been known to occasionally have “lazy slacker syndrome,” he has no intentions of letting life pass by unchallenged.

“Chasing your dreams are more important than watching others achieve dreams that could have been yours,” Zheng said.


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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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