North Catholic grads gather under cloudless sky
CRANBERRY TWP. — The North Catholic High School parking lot was the site of a tailgate party Saturday morning.
Under a cloudless blue sky, parents, grandparents, and other friends and relatives gathered to await the 11 a.m. beginning of commencement ceremonies.
They parked their vehicles with their hatchbacks open and decked out with pictures, banners and balloons congratulating and celebrating the soon-to-be graduates. Some vehicles contained the names of universities the graduates will be attending in the fall.
John and Janet Biondi of Greensburg drove an hour to see their granddaughter Emilie Adams receive her diploma.
John Biondi said Emilie was their first grandchild to graduate from high school.
He said she plans to attend the University of Pittsburgh to study to become a physician’s assistant.
“As grandparents, we have full confidence she will be a physician’s assistant. She has the credentials,” said Biondi.
Part-time North Catholic faculty member Dean Petrella, who teaches electronics and engineering to sophomores, juniors and seniors, said a lot of students would be going into engineering at universities in the fall.
Petrella said, “I’ve tried to get them used to engineering in the real world. As you affect people, they go into the world, and they have an impact.”
Robert Gregor of Zelienople was enjoying the day as he waited for his son, Matthew, to graduate. It was his third graduation, and Matthew will be his last child to graduate from high school. He thought Saturday’s outdoor commencement benefited from the perfect weather.
“This is really good. We get to socialize with the people in the parking lot. The class voted to have it outside,” he said.
Matthew intends to go to Franciscan University in Stubenville, Ohio, for two years before transferring to the University of Pittsburgh to study chemical engineering.
“God blessed him with a gift for math. It just clicks with him,” said his father.
Still, the moment was bittersweet, Robert Gregor said. With the house empty, “it’s going to be a rough fall. We’ve taken up gardening. We’ll have something to show the grandchildren,” he said.
Kelly Bowman of Cranberry Township said she was there to see both her son, Aidan Minder, and her house guest, Griffin Floyd, receive their diplomas. Griffin lived with the Bowmans his senior year because his father’s job had taken the family overseas.
Griffin’s father, Matthew Floyd, had made the 15-hour flight from Hawaii to see his son graduate.
“He spent his sophomore and junior years attending the international school in Brussels, but he wanted to come back and finish his senior year here,” said Floyd.
While his mother and four siblings weren’t able to travel from Hawaii, Floyd said they would be able to watch the commencement ceremony which was being livestreamed on YouTube.
After the 170 members of the graduating class filed into the parking lot they heard remarks beginning with co-salutatorian Ellie Armitage.
Ellie praised her classmates not only for their athletic and academic accomplishments in the past four years but for the charitable accomplishments of the class, including food and mask drives and fundraising for the Children’s Home of Pittsburgh.
“The North Catholic community has been lifting each other up and bringing others with us when they succeed,” she concluded.
In her speech co-salutatorian Riley Orr conceded she had gotten into trouble a lot when she was younger, but added successful people are the ones who break the rules, citing Rosa Parks, Marie Curie and Elvis Presley as one who challenged societal and gender norms.
“When we were spending virtual days in quarantine, we were breaking the mold of what school was meant to be,” said Riley.
“Many schools have accomplished athletes and academics. Innovators and rule-changers are rare. Don’t be afraid to push those boundaries, if you want success, ” she said.
Waiting in line to be called on stage, senior Max Kazan said, “I feel good. I finally get to leave.” Max said after he spends the summer working and hanging out with friends, he was looking forward to attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania to focus on film.
Isabella Kelm was wearing medals representing a state and two WPIAL championships stemming from her four years on the volleyball team as a right-side hitter. She said there won’t be volleyball in her future when she attends Davidson Univesity to study neuroscience.
Evan Robbins said he plans to “work out and get stronger this summer. I’m taking a gap year. I plan to play hockey, but I have no idea where.”
Emily Zacherl credits her STEM classes at North Catholic with giving her the interest to pursue architecture.
“I’m planning to find an internship in architecture, find something around here before I got to Penn State University to study architecture,” she said.
In her closing remarks, valedictorian Emma Ventresca challenged her classmates.
“How will you start? How will you finish? It’s the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one,” she said. “See beyond our years at high school. We must start strong in the next phase of our lives.”
“It’s not enough to envision change but we must act on it as well,” she said.