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Seneca Valley Class of 2017 Learns the “Benefits of Failure” at Commencement



“Congratulations you are officially no longer in high school,” said Board of Education member Rebecca Smondrowski to the 285 members of Seneca Valley High School’s Class of 2017 just prior to handing out the diplomas at commencement exercises Friday morning in the Daughters of the American Revolution – Constitution Hall in Washington D.C.

The graduates were told by Commencement Speaker and Seneca Valley alumnus Dr. James Cherry of the “benefits of failure.” Cherry is the Scientific Program Director for the Office of Scientific Operations at the National Cancer Institute at Frederick.


“Thinking back to the 18-year-old boy that was sitting in the audience as one of you so many years ago, and considering the 40-something man that stands before you today, I would say, ‘Boy, I have I failed.’ And I am fortunate to have those failures. Those failures drove me to be able to stand here before you as a graduate of Seneca Valley High School,” said Cherry.

“I am not the smartest. I never was the smartest,” he told the Seneca Valley graduates how proud he was to be alumni who’d had graduated as captain of the Screamin’ Eagles football team. The work that his coaches, family, and teachers demanded of him in high school allowed him to earn an academic/sports scholarship to Shepherd University, as part of the liberal arts education at Shepherd he took a biologic science class. He told the graduates that his professor urged him to follow the sciences, which was something that he did not think was for him. “I was petrified. There was no way I was going to be a scientist. They are the smart kids.” and he was going to play football.


One day his prof