Pelham High School bids farewell to graduates during 2024 commencement

Published 6:10 pm Friday, May 24, 2024

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

PELHAM – Graduating students from Pelham High School coalesced at the Pelham Civic Complex and Ice Arena on Thursday, May 23, surrounded by their friends and loved ones, to celebrate the end of their educational journey at Pelham City Schools.

Outside of the significance that the moment represented for each of Pelham’s graduates, the 2024 commencement exercises also represented a milestone for PHS faculty and city officials in attendance. In the culmination of a year’s long celebration, the ceremony marked the passage of the 10th class to graduate from Pelham High School since the formation of the Pelham City Schools district.

“As we begin I’d like to make the point that you are a very unique class,” Pelham City Schools Superintendent Chuck Ledbetter said. “Your experience as a high school (class) ranges from coming in as freshmen in the middle of the worst pandemic in over a hundred years and as you leave, the world is now changing with artificial intelligence and things are changing by the day—not by the week or the month. Going out into a brave new world, know that we are proud of you and that you are going to be difference makers in the world as you go forward.”

Following Ledbetter’s opening words, Senior Class President Anna Mann delivered the ceremony’s welcome address and invited the guests who had gathered to witness the senior class’ moment of triumph.

“Class of 2024, regardless of where our paths take us, our bond as a school community is strong,” Mann said. “As we grow and change, we can look back and cherish those we’ve met and grown with and the challenges we have faced together. Those challenges have shaped us much like a well-loved patchwork quilt.”

Mann utilized a number of inspirational quotes from a variety of pop-culture figures including a character from Gilmore Girls and Taylor Swift in her address. In her own words, Mann spoke fondly of her classmates and wished them luck on their journeys ahead.

“I know the friendships amongst this class will be lifelong,” Mann said. “The love is so authentically strong. We have to cherish all that we’ve been blessed (with). I am so grateful for each of you and my time in Pelham schools.”

In accordance with long-standing tradition, PHS Principal Kim Kiel introduced Pelham Mayor Gary Waters for the Mayor’s Address.

“Thirty-nine years ago, the leadership of Pelham High School and Pelham City Hall decided that it would be a good idea to have the mayor say a few words,” Waters said. “I’ve never really understood the logic behind it, but I’ve honored the tradition and I do the best that I can. This is my 10th year bringing this talk to you guys—and I was wondering (recently) how come this address from me to you hasn’t gotten any easier—and in fact has gotten harder.”

Waters signified that it was not due to an ineligibility, given that he is the father of three Pelham graduates, nor from a lack of experience. In fact, Waters cited his experience as the likely root cause to the predicament.

“It hasn’t gotten any easier because I continue to age and my audience remains the same,” Waters said. “I graduated from high school 51 years ago this month—so there’s two generations between me and you. With that gap being as big as it is, maybe I can’t relate to you or have the things in common I need to have with you. But, I think I’ve got an answer to the problem.”

Waters then introduced Councilmembers Rick Wash and Michael Harris to share the podium with him.

“There are no participation trophies in life,” Wash said. “After this stage, it is up to you make it on your own. The road that you take is not straight—its curvy, so the secret is you have to learn to swerve. So, don’t be afraid when the road is curvy. Dream big, every one of you has future plans—you’re going to go to colleges, you know what you want to major in, you know what you want to do with your life, so dream big, but remember that a dream without a goal is a waste of your time.”

Wash, who graduated himself 43 years ago, further spoke on overcoming adversity and expecting challenges while also telling the audience the story of how Pelham came to have a panther as its mascot—a journey that proved to be both comical and entirely fictional.

“Be thankful tonight, be thankful to your parents, thankful to your teachers, thankful to your school and thankful to each other,” Wash said. “You’ve come a long way and you have a long journey ahead of you.”

Councilmember Michael Harris, as a 2000 graduate of PHS, further congratulated his fellow alumni for their accomplishment.

“As you step into the next chapter of your lives, remember that the world is full of both challenges and opportunities, Harris said. “Embrace change, stay curious and be resilient. Your education has given you the tools to think critically and act with empathy. Use them wisely, believe in your potential, stay true to yourself and never stop learning. The future is in your hands so go out there and make a difference. Remember that this is the starting point and not the finish line.”

As Waters took back the podium, he donned his new ceremonial hat for the 2024 graduation, an annual tradition that Waters believes impacts a lasting memory for the graduates far more effectively than any speech.

“It’s a great day to be a panther,” all three men said in unison.

In quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson, Kiel then spoke to each graduating students’ special capabilities and individual significance before further likening their next steps ahead as the first miles in a long road trip.

Kiel also reminded students in attendance that they held a special significance to her personally, for having been her inaugural class upon taking the role of principal at PHS.

“You have filled our halls with laughter, pride and an undeniable sense of community,” Kiel said. “The comradery and spirit you have shown on the field, the court, the stage and in the classroom have truly made Pelham High School a special place.”

Valedictorian Ian Chambers spoke on the importance of enjoying life and working to find fulfillment. In doing so, Chambers encouraged his fellow graduates to always strive to be an outlier and to remember where they had come from.

“During our time at Pelham High School, opportunity after opportunity was given to us—use them,” Chambers said. “Take the opportunities given and expand upon them—let them be the reason that we succeed in college and let it be the reason you succeed in your career. Whatever it may be, be the outlier that Pelham High School has trained you to become. Many were not given the opportunities that we were often given. Do not let it go to waste.”

Following the acknowledgement of the more than $12.6 million in scholarships earned by the class and immediately prior to the presentation of diplomas, school officials went off script to introduce a surprise welcome home of Staff Sgt. Chelsea Lewis, brother of graduate Sam Hughley, who returned in secret from a five-year tour of duty in Europe to surprise her brother.

The teachers of Pelham High School then formed a tunnel of congratulations as each student walked through on their way to the stage and to begin their next chapters in life.

“May I just say that it has been a privilege to share so many moments with each of you, proud is an understatement,” said Miranda Pierce, executive president of the Pelham student government association. “Tonight, in this room, it is your moment. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my proud honor to present to you the Pelham High School class of 2024.”