The annual ritual of graduation returned to Saucon Valley High School Friday night with commencement exercises for the Class of 2019, which were held in the school’s auditorium, where approximately 165 graduates turned their mortarboard tassles and the page to a new chapter in life.
The ceremony included the customary rites of passage afforded graduates plus a few new traditions and surprises.
This year the evening began with recognition of the graduates who will be serving in the United States military during their next chapter in life:
- Navy: Dominic Bracalente Jr., Jan Flores-Ortiz, Mary Johnson
- Marines: Jarrod Spradlin, Tyler Schulte
- Coast Guard: Connor Lettich
Those graduates also formed an Honor Guard to lead the recession of graduates out of the auditorium at the conclusion of the ceremony.
Following the singing of the National Anthem, the countless family members and friends who came to see the Class of 2019 graduate were welcomed to the ceremony by Senior Class President Evangelos Hahalis, who elicited a laugh as he first pulled out a selfie stick and took a photo of himself with his classmates seated behind him on the stage.
“Without all of you we would not be here today,” Hahalis told the attendees, including the high school faculty. “We truly owe you the world.”
Hahalis noted that in addition to outstanding musicians and actors, Saucon Valley was graduating an “amazing” cadre of athletes, including a dozen students who have committed to playing their sport at the collegiate level.
“Remember to be young, wild and free,” exhorted Hahalis, who will attend the Honors College at the University of Pittsburgh to study biology.
Valedictorian Nayana Pandey graduated with the highest grade point average in her class and plans to attend Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College to study biomedical engineering.
She reflected on how in hindsight, the last four years of school “went by in the blink of an eye.”
“Ultimately the way we measure the time spent in high school…is in the friendships made and the time spent together,” Pandey said. “I wish you all the greatest of futures.”
Salutatorian Sydney Oskin will attend the University of Notre Dame where she plans to study business and engineering.
Her advice to her classmates was never to stop growing.
“The only way to improve is to grow. And the only way to grow is through new experiences,” Oskin said. “Please, try new things and take chances.”
A new tradition established at the Class of 2019’s graduation was reflections by a student-selected speaker, who this year was Zoe Zaharakis.
Zaharakis plans to attend Temple University to study secondary education with a concentration in social studies and psychology, which happen to the same subjects taught by the student-selected faculty speaker, who was high school social studies and psychology teacher Jeremy Kittek.
Class secretary Zaharakis took graduating seniors on a trip down memory lane as she recalled many of the things that helped make their 13-year shared experience as Saucon Valley students unique. From Family Fun nights and losing baby teeth that would then be worn in necklaces, to spiking their hair with gel before sixth-grade socials and Multi-Genre projects, her speech was a reminder of good times shared with friends.
Zaharakis also played a part in another new tradition at the ceremony, which involved recognizing the high school class celebrating their 50th reunion.
In June 1969, the Saucon Valley School District was still being formed and the high school that would soon serve the new district had not yet been built.
Fifty years ago, high school students attended class in a building at 1050 Main Street; a building that today houses an assisted living facility. They would continue to do so until Saucon Valley High School opened in 1971.
Eight members of Hellertown-Lower Saucon High School’s Class of 1969 were in attendance and received recognition at Friday night’s ceremony, including Rebecca Finkbeiner, William Frey, Peggy Laubach, Jane Moyer, Marlene Stana, Carol Tavormina, Nancy Vasko and Robert Vasko.
Zaharakis shared some facts about the world as it was a half century ago, when gas cost just 36 cents a gallon and local residents were enjoying the musical stylings of the “Heller-tones,” a singing group led by Hazel Jones.
In that year the school’s wrestling team had an impressive 12-1-1 record and the only girls’ sport was basketball.
“Once a Panther, always a Panther,” said Zaharakis, who was herself a standout athlete at Saucon Valley High School.
Before the diplomas were handed out to this year’s graduates, the class heard from Kittek, who has been a Saucon Valley teacher for 10 years.
In a speech that combined humor with genuine emotion, he told students that he wants the best out of life for them.
“Destiny is not the path given to us, but the path we choose ourselves,” he said, quoting the 2010 children’s movie Megamind.
“I know you will leave Saucon Valley with the skills that will help you choose your own destiny,” Kittek said. “It has been a pleasure to be a part of your path.”
The Saucon Valley Class of 2019 as named in the graduation program includes:
Ferris M. Abu-Ghosh, Emily Megan Ackerman, Christian D. Alling, Mason C. Anthony, Michael Alfredo Avia, Ethan C. Baldwin, Carl Barrell, Joshua Joeliano Barreto, Jakob Benado, Yasser Bendjilali, Sarah Berger, Nicholas Ryan Bloch, Jamie Bodor, Jacob Tyler Boehm, Noah Bofinger, Eric Michael Boyko, Dominic Bracalente Jr., Megan Nicole Bredbenner, Makayla A. Bubori, Anthony Joseph Bufanio, Christian Nikolai Caballero, Jack Causey, John Chaffier, Hanna M. Ciesielka, Justin Michael Clements, Curtis William Clifford, Siobhan E. Coakley, Thomas L. Coffin Jr., Nevin T. Cooney, Kyle E. Coronado, Abigail Rose Crotsley, Ian Christopher Csicsek, Sean Matthew Cyphers, Christian J. D’Angelo, Harrison John Dale, Jessica Danner, Phillip Fadi Dayoub, Anna Lynn Dixon, Lindsay E. Dortic, Jessica Lee Duffy, Sarah Elizabeth Duffy, Brandon Michael Ehritz, Jacy Elene Farace, Kiana Joelle Faroun, Anastaziah Erika Elizabeth Fellmann-Eckhardt, Jan Abdiel, Flores Ortiz, Austin Carl Folk, Chase R.S. Fong, Megan Rose Freed, Katherine Criseyde Jane French, Ryan Joseph Frey, Morgan Alexandra Fritts, Calver D. Gallard, Kelvin Caleb Gallard, Josiah Gaston, Megan Louise Gatchel, Mason Gerstenberg, Nicholas Giovanni Giannetto, Emily Lou Gissel, Christopher Lee Gombocz, Allycia Ann Gonzalez, Slade Grant, Kelly Joy Hack, Natalie Anna Hagan, Evangelos D. Hahalis, Benjamin R. Happel, Jared Harka, Gillian Mary Harris, Melina Elizabeth Heffner, Richard Glenn Heins, Dylan Hero, Jarrett T. Hirschbeck, Jenna Hoff, Audrey Margaret Holland, Ryan Joseph Holub, Evan John Honsel, Reily Joseph Hudak, Nayoung Im, Mary Elizabeth Johnson, Serafina Jacqueline Johnstone, Joshua Michael Jones, Aaron David James Kline, Christopher T. Knauss, Cecilia Jo Kohn, Katelyn Elizabeth Kramer, Aaron Kuhns, Christopher J. Kulp, Justin Aaron Kyra, Tej N. Laliwala, Jacob Troy Laudenslager, Brianna Lee, Joshua C. Leidy, Connor D. Lettich, Mia Wanda Lloyd, Tyler N. Marino, Nicholas J. Marouchoc, Riley Christopher Martin, Allison Celeste Martins, Tyler Christopher Massey, Robert F. Mateff Jr., Tamuka Antony Mawindi, Keegan John Maykut, Kaitlyn Abrielle McCormick, Brandon Christopher McIntosh, Isabella Marie Medei, Brett A. Meyers, Nicholas Michael Millets, Ava D. Mondschein, Jina Morel, Patrick John Morrissey, Jarod Carl George Morykan, Paul F. Myers, Katherine Elizabeth Naiburg, Connor Matthew O’Donnell, Ofori Ohene, Adrian L. Ortiz, Carlos J. Ortiz, Sydney Rivers Oskin, Morris Owusu, Kayla Pagan, Nayana Renee Pandey, Patrick Michael Patterson-Zuber, Lauren Elizabeth Polak, Kimberly Ann Polefka, Jakob Leo Raven, Jarred Taylor Reccek, Aidan T. Redding, Galina Jean Reilly, Shawn Michael Remel, Raymond Jacob Rhodomoyer, Brooke Elizabeth Riefenstahl, Kiele Madison Riefenstahl, Nicholas Daniel Rosengrant, Madelyn Grace Schaffer, Ali Megan Schrantz, Tyler J. Schulte, Jack Robert Sheasley, Cora A. Shine, Kayla Marie Shive, Jenna Nicole Skillinge, Jude E. Slaski, Kara Elizabeth Smith, Zia Rae Smith, Tyler S. Spengler, Jarrod M. Spradlin, Christopher Jacob Stump, Mackenzie R. Swett, Caden John Swiderski, Jared M. Thatcher, Chloe Marie Trachtenberg, Nicole M. Valianatos, Garrett J. Van Helmondt, Bryce Thomas Fernando VanNorman, Talia Jade Vinson, Matthew Ryan Wagner, Timothy McCreary Weaver, Andrew D. Weintraub, Lauren Elizabeth Weintraub, Olivia Paige Williams, Mikayla Leigh Yeager, Bradley Shoup Yeahl, Natalie Hope Yeh, Mara Katherine Yurasits, Zoe Anastasia Zaharakis, Aidan E. Zawodny, Jonathan G. Zettlemoyer, Cecilia Ann Zimmerli*
*Names listed do not necessarily confirm completion of graduation requirements.
Photos by Christopher J. Christian. To purchase digital or print copies of any of the photos in this story, please visit the website for Christopher J. Christian Photography.