The Class of 2012 at marked their commencement exercises by reflecting on the recent deaths of two young men, and how to apply lessons from their lives to their own.
A senior at Saul, after suffering from ALS. His class marked his death with a fitting tribute honoring his positivity and smile.
Additionally, keynote speaker Dr. Catrina King, a 1998 Saul alumni, shared the life of her cousin, Willie, who was killed in an act of intercity violence last week. She cautioned the graduates to carefully weigh their decisions and not make the same mistakes Willie did.
Senior Class Secretary Joseph Felder remembered the energy, positivity and academic excellence Tkachuk embodied, asking his classmates to live on like their fallen brother. Tkachuk's sister, Jessica, accepted his diploma.
"Josh wanted to keep many of you in the dark about how serious his illness was. He wanted to keep his spirits up," she said. "I believe he is walking again today, and he's here with us right now."
A molecular biologist and veterinarian, King, on the other hand, described the cautionary tale around the death of her 22-year-old cousin.
"Life is all about decisions and a lot of things were already made for him, but he had chance after chance to make it all right," she said. "I want you to understand how every decision you make in life sticks."
With plenty to reflect on, the student speakers focused on the positives of their four years at Saul—one of only three agricultural high schools nationwide, as Principal Tamera Conaway said. According to senior class sponsor Gaetano Amoroso, 82.6 percent of the 113 graduates will attend college, with eight more enlisting in the armed services.
Salutatorian Andrew Harvey championed his classmates who won awards at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, exhibited at the Philadelphia International Flower Show, or interned at organizations like the Philadelphia Zoo, Longwood Gardens or the Phillies.
"Truly our time at this school at the very least has brought us one step closer to turning our amazing potential into a lifetime of success," he said.
Valedictorian Erica Forstater highlighted noteworthy teachers, staff and events the occurred over the past four years and wished her classmates future successes.
"Saul taught us how to make our own choices. We chose to come to this school. We chose to employ the skills we gained to add to everyday situations. We chose to do our best to prove that we can continue to make our own choices as we go off on our own," she said.
And in a forward-thinking move, the Class of 2012 donated money for new outside bleachers as its class gift. The Class of 2013 will have its predecessor to thank for that.