Heritage High School graduation / photo courtesy of Norma Asem
Leesburg, VA (June 19, 2016) – Heritage High School valedictorian Jason Rosenthal told the audience at the school’s graduation he had one motivation to become his class’ number one student: making a unique valedictory speech.
“As a member of the band, I was able to watch the valedictories for previous years and I noticed they were all very similar. They would begin with a declaration that the speech would be different and then repeat the same clichéd speech about the future.”
With the help of his bandmates, Rosenthal offered what was, indeed, a unique speech punctuated by snippets of “Celebrate,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Don’t Stop,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “I Get Around,” “Don’t Stop Believing,” “Twist and Shout,” “The Time Warp,” “Gonna Fly Now,” and ending with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
Rosenthal topped the Heritage Class of 2016 with a grade point average (GPA) of 4.65. Emily Jaster was the salutatorian with a 4.64 GPA.
Principal Jeff Adam spoke about what made the graduates examples for all those who will follow them at Heritage. “You celebrate each other, hold each other up on bad days and you exemplify individuals coming together to make something greater…
“You are leaders of the highest caliber. The journey that began 13 years ago for many of you comes to fruition here tonight and we celebrate you and your achievement. You set a high bar for Heritage students who are here now and who will be members of The Pride in the future.”
Adam offered the following statistics at Heritage’s 13th graduation ceremony:
- There are 301 members of The Pride in the Class of 2016.
- 214 earned Advanced Studies diplomas.
- 92 percent of the class will be headed toward post-secondary educational opportunities.
- Heritage’s Class of 2016 earned more than $3 million in scholarships.
Class President Aiden Carroll said his class went beyond the teen stereotypes created by John Hughes in movies like “The Breakfast Club.” “What sets the Class of 2016 and the rising generation apart from the relatable teens of the ’80’s is this: we don’t have room to be labeled in the first place. We have grown up knowing that, regardless of where we come from, we are free to pursue anything we choose…
“We’ve grown far beyond the constraints of the high school niche. The reason cliques don’t exist anymore is not because we’re not doing anything, it’s because we’re doing everything. Class of 2016 as we graduate today; take this lesson to heart. The reason that we are the future is because we are already embracing exactly who we are at such a young age.”
Retiring Heritage Athletic Director Ron Petrella was the commencement speaker. (He became The Pride’s first athletic director in July 2001.)
“They said I’m retiring, but I’m not retiring; I’m graduating. I find it a pleasure to graduate with you. You see, it only took you 12 years; it took me 30…I’m figuring out, like you, just what I want to be when I grow up, because you should never fully grow up.”
Petrella said, when someone asks the graduates how they are doing, not to reply with a long, complaining list of how busy they are.
“When you say that, you’re telling me nothing. How do we remember that we are ‘human beings’ and not ‘human doings’? When someone asks you ‘How are you?’ change the vernacular; don’t shoot back your to-do list. What they are asking you is not what you have to get done today; they’re asking you ‘How is your heart today?’ Take the risk and the leap for the people who truly deserve it in your life when you say to them ‘Y’know what, I’ve been trying my heart out. I’ve really been trying to do the right thing. I’m here and everywhere, but I could really use a hand. I really could use a hug.’ When you take that leap with the people that really mean something to you, then you truly will see the dynamics of your connection to them.”
Petrella asked students to not be afraid of their uniqueness.
“Remember what makes you different. Everyone here is different. Embrace what makes you different. That’s what will make you special. You are unique and every one of you is valuable. Your difference will make somebody hire you. Most importantly, your difference will make somebody love you.”
Becoming a cancer survivor taught Petrella to celebrate life and seek out the things that make him happy.
“I found out what was really truly important. But I chose one thing – every day I came to work because of kids like you because you made me smile. You made me happy. You gave me hope. That’s the same thing you do for your parents every day…
“I’ve discovered the important things: I’ve discovered that smiles, handshakes, hugs, hellos and goodbyes are the most important moments anyone can share…Every day, you have the opportunity to share those with the people you love.”
Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams encouraged parents in the audience to allow their graduates to follow their passions. As an example, he used the story of his daughter, Lexi, a recent college graduate, whom he had wanted to become an engineer. “She decided to follow her own passion: psychology, which led to her discovering an interest in the field of visual perception.” Lexi decided to prepare for optometry school and a career as an eye doctor and is working full-time as she prepares to take the entrance exam for optometry school. “It appears to all be working out; even if she didn’t take my fantastic advice as a father about becoming an engineer.
“My wish on this day is that we realize our graduates can find a place where their choices, as well as their parents’ hopes and dreams meet; even if it’s not with an engineering degree.”
The Class of 2016 gave their alma mater a new lion mascot as its class gift.
At-Large School Board member Beth Huck, (Catoctin District) member Eric DeKenipp and member Tom Marshall (Leesburg District) attended the Heritage graduation.