Poignant final commencements for W-B's three high schools

·3 min read

Jun. 11—WILKES-BARRE — The youngest school came first. Meyers High School's 91st and final commencement began a bit after 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

GAR Memorial's 94th and final graduation began a bit after 11 a.m., with a raucous crowd barely silenced long enough for the presentations.

Then came the eldest, Coughlin High School's 131st and final ceremony of robes and mortar boards. This fall, all three schools consolidate to a new building in Plains Township.

And while students of all three venerable schools had weathered a tumultuous 15 months of a global pandemic to get to this final finish line, Coughlin senior Ian Scott Gartley had that trump card for his speech.

"We watched as things fell apart, both literally and figuratively," he said "Literally, our school is falling apart."

The truth was in the setting. While Meyers and GAR were able to hold their last graduations in their own auditoriums, Coughlin students marched into the Mohegan Sun Arena Thursday afternoon out of necessity: The original section of the school has been shuttered for years, including the auditorium, with students split between the newer annex and a renovated former Mackin elementary school building.

Gartley rattled off other obstacles the Coughlin Class of '21 had overcome: The splitting of Coughlin's four grades into two buildings four years ago. The combination of sports teams among the three schools into the Wilkes-Barre Area "Wolfpack," putting the Coughlin Crusaders, Meyers Mohawks and GAR Grenadiers into the history books. The pandemic's dramatic impact. And lastly, a break down of the school's air conditioning.

"Why am I reminding you of all of this?" he asked. "Because if school closures, athletic program consolidations, a global pandemic, and a broken air conditioning system can't stop us from succeeding, then what can?"

Resilience was the message of the day at all three ceremonies.

Meyers Salutatorian Tio Marello spoke wistfully of the memories he will take with him, from the "glittering" stained glass ceiling in the auditorium where he spoke to the local eateries the students frequented, and conceded the school's history is so rich many may believe "being a Mohawk" is in the genes. "It's not," he insisted.

"There is no cost to being a Mohawk except for what we all give: Our time, our dedication, our heart," he said. "While we say goodbye to Meyers, we will never say goodbye to being Mohawks, steadfast forever."

GAR Valedictorian Ashley Sarai Ventura-Aguilar noted she was not only the last valedictorian of the school, but that "we're the last generation of high school seniors that will graduate as Grenadiers." And though the pandemic made them miss many of the things that make a senior year special, "I can proudly say we made the best of it."

GAR Principal Colleen Robatin lauded the students for "navigating" through the unpredictable senior year. "Be the good in this world, see the good in this world, and live the good in this world. You are a Grenadier. You are strong. And you are unstoppable."

While there was little talk in the official remarks of how the students felt in seeing their alma maters fade upon graduation, a few offered opinions outside GAR.

Graduate Yohanna Arias, 17, said she would have enjoyed experiencing the new school, but has good memories of GAR. Now she's hoping to go to Bloomsburg University and study retail.

"Proud Mom," Michelle Rivera, who had come to see her daughter, Alexandra Melina Gomez, graduate from GAR, said she's sad to see the place close as a high school. "I like the family atmosphere here, and the building is beautiful."

Another proud mom, Jasmine Delarosa, who had come to see her daughter, Luisa Angel, graduate from GAR, said "it's an honor to be part of the last graduating class. These are memories they'll have forever."

Meyers and Coughlin are in the early process of being sold, but GAR will be converted to a middle school, and Delarosa's son, 10-year-old Josiah Angel, was eager to attend. "I'm coming here next year!"

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