'You are pioneers'
A standing-room-only crowd attended the June 16 commencement ceremonies for the first-ever graduating class of the Medical Academy Charter School, which opened in Catasauqua with a sophomore class three years ago.
As the time for the traditional procession of graduates approached, additional chairs were brought into the room at the Holiday Inn, Allentown, to accommodate the crowd of proud family members and friends.
Twenty-four members of the Class of 2015 received high school degrees and 14 of them received certified nursing assistant degrees as well.
"We are the only school nationwide that's been able to [have students] achieve CNA degrees upon graduation," said charter school board President Dr. Craig T. Haytmanek.
He encouraged the graduates to keep on learning, something that is certain to happen for most of the students.
Nineteen will attend a college or technical school. Two are serving in the military and three are entering the workforce.
"You are winners," he told the students. "Whatever has happened in your past, leave it behind you. This is the time for the future. Just go forward and if there's anything back there that bothers you, forgive yourself. Move forward for now."
Newly appointed school CEO Jose Rosado has had only a few weeks to get to know the graduating class since coming to the school.
"You are pioneers, a group of young men and women who began a journey at a new school with many unknown factors," he said. "You became the class who set the path for others to follow."
Outgoing CEO Joanna Hughes also spoke to the students, with faculty member Maria Shirar translating for Hispanic family members who are not bilingual.
She encouraged graduates to take risks on their road to success and to be a positive influence on others.
"The people who make the most of their lives are not the ones with the possessions, the most money or the most awards and recognition. They are the ones who care," she said. "So care enough to give the world the best that you have. You will be giving the world a tiny miracle – small but hugely significant."
Class President Ydalisa Rodriguez reminisced about the path of shared experiences she and her classmates have followed since coming to the Medical Academy and acknowledged that many will be going in different directions now.
"Some of you guys I might not see from this point on," she said.
She thanked her family, teachers and friends for their constant support.
Salutatorian Manuel Javier began by calling for a round of applause for the faculty.
"This year has been a magnificent year, not only for our class, but for the school in general," he said. He plans on serving in the National Guard before going to college.
"This is something I wouldn't have done if I wouldn't have gone to the Medical Academy Charter School," he said. "Thank you for the magnificent ride."
Javier was grateful for the support of the teaching staff and administration.
"Thank you for not giving up on us, for always giving us a chance to redeem ourselves when we needed it," he said. "We don't just hit a wall and say we're going to stop here. Our teachers don't let us do that. As soon as they see us hit that wall, we have to get back up."
Valedictorian Amber Heffelfinger said in three years, the class had grown into a family.
"Like all families, we've had our ups and downs.
She encouraged her classmates to continue to set goals and not to give up when faced with disappointments.
"Life is too short to worry about things you can't change," she said.
Teacher Lori Cassidy presented monetary faculty awards to three students.
Heffelfinger and Javier received awards for their academic excellence.
Javier also received an Exemplary Student Award for his leadership abilities and Julie Clark receive the same award for the courage she has displayed in the face of difficult challenges.
Faculty members participated in a silent auction earlier this year to raise money for the awards.