With 14 months of COVID-19 challenges behind them, the Tussey Mountain High School Class of 2021 stood tall and proud as they accepted their diplomas during an indoor ceremony held Friday evening.

Originally scheduled to be held outdoors, heavy rain forced the graduates and a limited number of guests inside the high school gymnasium, where school board President James L. Hodge presented the members of the class with their diplomas.

“Many people look at this year as a terrible experience because of COVID-19, but in a couple years, those same people will be viewing this as a hardship that they overcame and became stronger because of it,” remarked valedictorian John Hunter Horton of James Creek. “Let’s not wait a few years to realize all of the positives that COVID has provided us.”

Reminding his graduating classmates that last year’s seniors were unable to participate in a traditional ceremony due to the pandemic, Horton encouraged fellow graduates to “put one’s life into perspective,” adding, “give thanks for the little things.”

“While starting on your journey of life, I encourage you to do three things: be extremely grateful for everything that you have, work hard and hustle for everything that you want, and attack everything with a growth mindset,” suggested Horton.

The Tussey graduate went on to advise, “When you are succeeding in the future, do not forget about the experiences and lessons that you have learned in the years at Tussey Mountain, and even though you have learned a lot, continue to keep learning.”

Horton thanked friends, families and teachers for their guidance and support over the past 12 years and concluded his remarks by saying, “We are graduating high school, and starting the next chapter of our lives … I hope that you continue to learn, remember to hustle, and always give thanks, no matter where you are in this crazy world.”

Liam O’Hagan of Robertsdale, salutatorian, mirrored Horton’s remarks with thanks to all those who helped him along the way.

“It is important to remember that it is better to fall and stumble than to remain in place from a fear of falling,” observed O’Hagan. “God has given each and every one of us the chance to prove ourselves … we have the ability to spread our wings and soar above the clouds if we only have the courage to do so.”

O’Hagen encouraged classmates to “challenge ourselves whenever we can,” adding, “We often find ourselves fixating on the past and future more than the present, I believe that the present is the only real thing we have.”

To demonstrate that reflection, O’Hagan recalled the words of Master Oogway, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift, that is why we call it the present.”

The salutatorian concluded his remarks by reminding the Class of 2021, “After we leave here today, celebrate and rejoice, because you have spent the past 12 years working toward that goal … if you apply the same dedication and perseverance to everything you do, you will most certainly be successful.”

Tussey’s 2021 Class president Meagan Molosky of Saxton also saluted her parents, guardians, family members and loved ones as well as educators and administrators and school board members for providing the quality education the graduates will need to pursue the next chapter in their lives.

Molosky also pointed to the class’s willingness to succeed over the past 14 months despite COVID-19 which involved online classes and Zoom presentations, followed by on-again, off-again in-person classes.

“If there is one thing you should take away from this speech it is that time doesn’t wait, time does not slow down,” proclaimed Molosky. “Enjoy every moment because soon that moment will be over and the next will begin … treat every day as if it is your last because we are not guaranteed tomorrow, make the most of every single day you have.”

Molosky recognized these class officers: Ethan Schneider, Broad Top City, treasurer; Elizabeth Folk, Saxton, secretary; and Abigail Neff, Cassville, treasurer.

Also sharing congratulatory remarks at the commencement was Christopher Carrier, Tussey social studies instructor and one of this year’s class advisers. (Carrier also recognized the other adviser, Robert Hummel).

“Enjoy your recollections of Tussey and the memories you have of each other,” remarked Carrier. “You have gone through a difficult time thanks to COVID, but you made the best of the situation.”

In his brief remarks Carrier advised the Class of 2021 that relationships matter, do not be afraid to fail and to judge less and be more understanding. “Forever be a Tussey Titan,” he concluded.

Also offering brief remarks during the commencement were Matt McCahan, senior high school principal; and Dr. Jerry Shoemake, Tussey superintendent. The administrators congratulated the graduates for their commitment to education over the past 12 years and offered some advice to help them maneuver through the coming years.

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