COAL TOWNSHIP — Cherishing their Catholic education, having pride in the coal region, striving to fulfill dreams and growing together as a family were the messages expressed by speakers Thursday night at graduation ceremonies for 38 seniors at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School.

A large crowd attended the commencement in the Lee Korbich Memorial Gymnasium and gave the graduates a standing ovation for their outstanding accomplishments.

Salutatorian Huong “Melissa” Nguyen told her classmates, “Although we come from a small school, our passions and dreams are big. The aspirations, pursuits and desires of this class are unique to each and every one of us. We all strive for different goals and aim to make our own personal impacts within our community and the world.”

Nguyen said she and her classmates were given the tools at Lourdes to make their dreams into realities.

“Whether it’s playing for a major league baseball team, starting our own medical practice, becoming a big-shot lawyer, saving animals’ lives, teaching the next generation, or even starting a family, the Class of 2019 settles for nothing but excellence,” she said.

She described her class as “innovators and creators” who have cultivated their past and plan to manifest their futures.

She encouraged the faculty and staff and the graduates’ families and friends to support their dreams and future endeavors.

Valedictorian Frances Czeponis added, “The moment we have worked toward has finally come. We have officially walked across the stage of the Lourdes gymnatorium for one last time: this time as graduates.”

Czeponis said members of the graduating class not only have grown as individuals, but has grown to become a family.

She commended the teachers who have taught the seniors lessons that have had drastic effects on both their academic and personal lives.

Czeponis, who offered several humorous anecdotes about her classmates and teachers, stated, “All jokes aside, I believe the preparedness of the students is a reflection of what our teachers, coaches and parents/guardians have done for us. They have enabled us to feel as though we are fit to take on whatever the next chapter of our life has to throw at us. They have taught us how to face adversity and how to make something positive out of our misfortunes.”

Czeponis, a four-year starting center on the girls basketball team that played in two state championship games during her career and an outstanding volleyball player for Lourdes, also thanked her classmates for helping each other become better people.

“We have formed lifelong friendships within these walls that will be here to fall back on regardless of how far we roam,” she said.

She said a quote by South Korean actor Park Bo-gum epitomizes her feelings toward moving forward from Our Lady of Lourdes. It states, “I am grateful for all the moments that I have, and I’m moving forward one step at a time to the future.”

Attorney Linda Kazmerski, a 1989 graduate of Lourdes and Shamokin native, served as guest speaker.

She attended the University of Pittsburgh before earning a juris doctorate with cum laude honors from Widener University School of Law.

She published two scholarly articles in the Widener Journal of Public Law and earned the Outstanding Public Service Award for volunteer work in the community and three American jurisprudence awards for academic excellence.

After spending a summer studying international business law in Geneva, Switzerland, she went on to earn a masters of law from the New York University School of Law in the field of tax law.

She currently works for “REL-EX,” a global provider of information-based analytics and decision tools. As an attorney working in the company’s legal business division, LexisNexis, in New York City, she has some of the world’s largest banks and Fortune 500 companies as her clients.

She said, “It’s an honor to be here with you to celebrate this milestone in the lives of this fine group of young people and witness the closing of one chapter of their lives and the start of their next,” she said.

Kazmerski, who has traveled throughout the world, told the Class of 2019: “For the past 18 years, you have grown up in the safety and security of the familiar; nestled between the scarred mountains of long abandoned coal mines. You may have grandparents or great-grandparents that worked in those mines and you enjoy hearing the stories of days gone by while sitting around the kitchen table. You have great memories of watching the Independence Day fireworks shot over the Glen Burn mountain or riding the coasters at Knoebels. You are quick to smile and extend your hand in friendship and quicker to offer assistance when needed. You look people in the eye when you speak to them. Your first instinct is to trust, respect and forgive. This is what it means to be from the coal region.”

Kazmerski credits her success in life to being from the coal region.

She said, “Like the coal taken out of these mountains years ago to forge iron into unyielding steel, the faith, tradition and work ethic ingrained in me from growing up in this region has forged an unyielding spirit, strength, fortitude, and I will admit, a healthy dose of stubbornness, that has contributed to my success.”

She told the graduates to never forget their hometown and the wonderful people in it.

Kazmerski said knowledge, faith, character and love are the keys to building a rewarding and successful life.

She said it was important for the graduates to believe and invest in themselves, and never doubt themselves.

“May God bless you as you follow the dreams in your heart and in all your endeavors,” Kazmerski concluded.

Sister Mary Anne Bednar, school administrator and high school principal, presented welcoming and closing remarks.

She congratulated the graduates and thanked their parents for making sacrifices to ensure their children received a Catholic education. The principal also praised the teachers at the small parochial school and urged the seniors to always be grateful for the education they obtained at Lourdes.

After Bednar presented the graduates, Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Harrisburg Livia Riley conferred diplomas as Lourdes Elementary School Principal Maureen Donati read off the list of graduates.

Riley, who is retiring at the end of the school year, also thanked the parents and teachers for molding the graduates into fine young men and women.

Upon congratulating the graduates and wishing them luck in the future, Riley stated, “Remember, the Lord will always be with you and take care of you. You are the builders of the future world. Share your gifts with all.”

Director of Studies Doug Rubendall recognized the honor students, Lourdes Scholars, members of the National Honor Society and other award winners.

He announced that the Class of 2019 earned more than $1 million in scholarships and grants.

Father Andrew Stahmer, school chaplain and pastor of Holy Angels Church in Kulpmont, offered the invocation and benediction.

The Class of 2019 was inducted into the Lourdes Alumni Association and sang the alma mater before recessing from the venerable gymnatorium for the last time together.

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