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West Deptford Grads Urged to 'Change the World'

For 218 seniors, it was a message of hope mixed with a dose of reality Monday evening.

Facebook. Google. Twitter. They’re revolutions in technology and society, simultaneously bringing the world closer and serving as tools to overthrow corrupt governments and change lives.

And they were all created by young, educated people.

That was school board president Christopher Strano’s message–and challenge–to West Deptford High School’s graduates Monday evening, the 47th graduation class on the 50th anniversary of the school’s opening.

For the 218 who would receive a diploma on the night, it was one of several hopeful themes–hope tempered by a certain amount of reality, though, as the seniors head into a world wracked by financial troubles and seemingly less certain than ever.

That reality came from science teacher Barbara Haulenbeek, who delivered it as plainly and simply as can be said.

“Life is difficult,” she said–but not in the stuck-at-a-red-light-annoyance way. Haulenbeek, who credited the senior class in helping her through the loss of her own mother this year, went so far as to wish those difficulties on the graduates.

“Many of these instances will try your spirit,” she said.

And it’s when life is at its hardest, Haulenbeek said, that you can find those things that can sustain you–and maybe even discover some answers.

Salutatorian Ian Pass echoed a similar sentiment, as he exhorted his classmates to pursue their dreams, no matter what.

“Don’t give yourself excuses,” Pass said. “Nothing worthwhile is easy.”

Joshua Jackson, the school’s valedictorian, reflected on whether the 7-year-old version of himself–the one who wanted to be an astronaut–could have ever imagined what high school graduation would be like.

And Jackson acknowledged the strong emotions surrounding the event, but told his classmates to do more than mourn the good times of the past.

“Don’t let all the tears you shed be sad ones,” he said.

Though emotions were subdued as the students went up to get their diplomas, there were plenty of smiles, as well as a few laughs as the occasional overzealous parent sounded an air horn or cheered in a moment of excitement.

Principal Brian Gismondi, who noted that the senior class received more than $2 million in scholarships and awards, credited both teachers and parents in being a large part of why this senior class can go out and tackle the challenges out there–something he said he expects they’ll do with great success.

“I cannot wait for you to change the world,” he said.

Strano seconded that thought, and said the graduating class can go on to do even better things than the creators of Facebook and Google before them.

“You are truly part of the ‘What’s Next’ generation,” he said.

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