HAMILTON TOWNSHIP - Oakcrest High School avoided another rainout on Monday, graduating its 312-person class of 2013 while thunder rumbled in the background.
The school started the ceremony early, with students walking onto the football field at 5:45 p.m. and catching some by surprise who thought the ceremony was to begin at 6 p.m.
While stragglers rushed to find seats, Greater Egg Harbor Regional Superintendent Steven Ciccariello announced that the program would be cut short, with the formal graduation taking place first.
Both Oakcrest and Absegami High School's graduation programs were affected by rain Friday. Because district officials formally decreed the graduating class at Absegami as graduated before the rain scattered everyone, the district elected not to reschedule graduation.
Oakcrest was taking no chances Monday, so with threatening weather blowing wisps of cool air on the graduates, Principal Dan Money introduced the class and John Houck, president of the district Board of Education, reported the class had graduated.
Only after the students received their diplomas did the school's salutatorian and valedictorian make their speeches.
Nyamekye Coleman, the salutatorian, told students that despite years of anticipation, high school was not like you see on TV. "We come to find that there is no dancing in the hallways and very little singing," Coleman said. "Instead, high school is a time to discover truths."
"In the end, although the Oakcrest Falcons may not erupt into spontaneous song and dance," she added, "we still all belong here."
School is about exploration, she said, and encouraged her classmates to seek out the truth. She said, "We must seek to discover truth, no matter how unglamorous, to be able to see the true beauty that lies just beneath the surface."
James Townley, the valedictorian, followed. He recounted the events and achievements of the students, discussing the past several years.
"However, today is not a day about letting go of the past," he said. "Today is a day to look at the foundation of accomplishments we've built and realize how they can build our future."
Instead, he suggested that students led a sheltered life and that may change.
"Life doesn't get any easier from here on out," Townley said, as the first rumbles of thunder led people to stream from the bleachers.
"The competition gets rougher, the hours get longer and the world expects us to become more and more self-reliant. Oakcrest prepared us very well, but none of us can be ready for everything the world will throw at us," Townley said.
He encouraged students to be mindful of the choices in life and make thoughtful decisions.
"The path ahead is so clearly lit if you just give your pupils time to adjust to whatever new darkness you encounter," Townley said. "So I'm not asking you to take one path or another in your life; I'm just asking you to look ahead before you do."
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