Graduate: Chardon Commencement a ‘Final Hug’
MENTOR, Ohio — More than three months after the tragedy at Chardon High School, students gathered on Saturday at the Class of 2012 commencement in celebration and hope for the future.
The graduation ceremony was held at the Mentor Fine Arts Auditorium on Center Street, where the Chardon High School Band delivered the National Anthem and salutatorian Haleigh Hart led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Each student donned a red and black, Chardon unity ribbon embellished with a white heart reaffirming their school motto “One Heartbeat” and the opening line to the school’s Alma Mater, “Oh hail to thee our Chardon High, our love for you will never die.”
Thousands of family members and friends sat and listened intently as the choir sang, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
A song and sentiment they say summed up the last half of their senior year.
Graduates heard from valedictorians, student council, Principal Andrew Fetchik, and Superintendent Joseph Bergant II.
At one point, Bergant became choked up when addressing the school shooting.
He said, “You will find small miracles in these tragic events. Look toward the positives when you can. Remember that you are alive and live each day to the fullest.”
Students tried not to focus on the shooting, but couldn’t help but remember their three fallen classmates: Demetrius Hewlin, 16, Russell King, Jr., 17, and Daniel Parmertor, 16, who were shot and killed on February 27, 2012, while sitting inside the school cafeteria waiting for a bus.
T.J. Lane, 17, has been arrested and charged with the murders.
Tragedy was the subject of wrestling great Leroy Kemp’s commencement speech, in which he cited personal events and encouraged students not to let the shootings define them. The 1974 graduate of CHS is a world-champion wrestler who was inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame and tapped to coach the United States Olympic Wrestling Team in 2008.
Walking across the stage to receive their diplomas from Chardon Board of Education President Karen L. Blankenship were 265 graduates, 78 with honors.
As the Senior Class Council led their classmates in the symbolic tradition of the “turning of the tassels,” the community was reminded of their moving forward, as well.
Alexandra Jernejeic said Saturday’s ceremony will help bring the students closure.
She said, “It’s like a big final hug.”
Students believe they share a special bond, and promised one another to always stay in contact with each other.
Gina Tosti said, “This brought us even closer together. It’s amazing.”
They chose a rather poignant senior class motto, written by an anonymous author that reads, “One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.”
It is a message that resonates deeply with the Chardon graduates. One which they hope will inspire everyone who reads it.