The seniors in Seneca Valley’s graduating class gathered, for what was the last time as members of the Class of 2015, for a ceremony marking the joyful end of their high school career, but many of those donning caps and gowns were thinking of one classmate who was not among them at Constitution Hall in Washington DC.
Senior Class President Diana Azizyan, Class Speaker Julie Jimenez, and Seneca Valley Principal Marc Cohen all mentioned the tragic death and legacy of Christina Morris-Ward. Morris-Ward’s was struck and killed by a car as she was walking to school while crossing Germantown Road at Wisteria Road in October of 2012.
“I know that Christina Ward was so important to so many people in this room,” Class Speaker Julie Jimenez told her classmates. “I wanted to take moment to assure her friends and family that she is graduating with us and that she will always be a part of Seneca Valley family. She will never be forgotten and the Class of 2015 honors her memory through action. So many of us have become advocates of pedestrian safety because of her.”
Principal Cohen praised the Class of 2015 for their dedication to their peers and the community, and their character, “because they believe that they too can make a difference.”
“They came together after the tragic loss of their friend and classmate Christina and fiercely advocated for longer crossing lights at corners, slower speed limits in our community, better driving habits from their peers, and safer pedestrian behavior from our students and students at our feeder elementary and middle schools. I am grateful for all their efforts and proud to have stood by them as they led this important work,” said Cohen.
“I stand before you as the proudest principal in all of Montgomery County,” said Cohen. “While it is true that the members of this graduating class have scored higher on their SATs, APs, and IB assessments than many of the classes that came before them that is not, in fact the reason I am so proud of you all. And while it is true that this class has students going to two-year colleges, four-year colleges, the Ivy Leagues, and West Point, and it is also true that some in this class have chosen to forego college to serve their nation by joining the military, and while I am so proud of that -- that is not why I am the proudest principal in Montgomery County. While it is also true that this class has earned more scholarship money than the last three graduating classes at Seneca Valley High School combined -- $13 million in scholarship money is pretty cool. But all of these accomplishments and many more than I could list here today are true, and they reflect the tremendous successes that you’ve experienced , but the thing that I am most proud of in you, our graduating class of 2015 is that you are a class of character. You care.”
“This class cares deeply about their peers,” continued Cohen. “They care deeply about their community. They care deeply about the world around them. This class has raised money for cancer research. This class has collected coats for the needy and pennies for patients. This class has donated hundreds of cans for the hungry and thousands of hours of service to the community.”
And it was the character of the class that Commencement Speaker Mark Bryan, who is a Seneca Valley alumnus as well as the Grammy winning guitarist and founding member of Hootie & The Blowfish. Bryan has charted sixteen singles on various Billboard singles charts as a member of Hootie & The Blowfish and recorded five studio albums. Hootie & The Blowfish’s 1994 debut album, Cracked Rear View, is the 16th-best-selling album of all time in the US, having been certified platinum 16 times.
Bryan told to Class of 2015 to make sure they continue to use and cultivate that high character. Speaking as someone who sat in their seats and walked the same Seneca Valley hallways 30 years before them, Bryan told the graduates. “I have performed before two U.S. presidents and I have also spent the night in jail. I have met Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, Bruce Springsteen and Tiger Woods and I also know the homeless guy on my street named Cooley that constantly begs for money. I have dated beautiful models, cheerleaders, and pop singers and I have also been through a divorce with three children. I have played the Kennedy Center, Madison Square Garden, Red Rocks but I can’t get booked in the Bottle and Cork in Dewey Beach. I have been trying for three summers.”
“Choose the high road of forgiveness and love instead of the made up of the pain of bitterness and hatred,” said Bryan. “Watch it brighten your world. It is a choice you can make every day, it is just not the easy choice. And if you think life is supposed to be easy you are wrong. It is a life of service and as soon as you think you are worthy -- you are not. Always want to be the humble underdog and not the overrated jerk.”
It was Senior Class President Diana Azizyan who may have summed up the feelings of many of the member of the Class of 2015, “Whatever our future holds, it is destined to be bright because this class has acquired a determination to succeed in the future.”
She also addressed the future of the school building and how the proposed construction of new Seneca Valley High School might impact these seniors who would not walk those halls. “With the plans for the new Seneca Valley being build and our school being destroyed, I think we all feel that a part of us will go missing with the old building. But it is the very essence of Seneca itself that we all hold near and dear to our hearts. We are from The Valley, that is our house and the memories, friendships and loving moments that we’ve created represent Seneca.”
Top photo by Germantown Pulse. Graduation photos by Kevin Crippen, used with permission.