Graduation Is The Goal, Self-Knowledge Is The Reward
Sep 26, 2022
Three standout PA Cyber graduates took the spotlight at the 2022 graduation ceremonies last June. PA Cyber held two ceremonies, one for Western Pennsylvania at Robert Morris University and one for Central/Eastern Pennsylvania at Kutztown University. Two class representatives delivered speeches at their respective venue and another graduate played violin—all in front of more than 1,200 people.
The class representatives bravely spoke their hearts out on stage, evoking pride for what the graduates have accomplished and excitement for the future. Class representatives are chosen based on their application, essay, and additional criteria that can be found on the graduation webpage at pacyber.org/graduation. At the central/eastern ceremony, a member of the graduating class joined the stage to play violin, providing a time of reflection on what has passed and what is to come.
Class Representative Kayla Collins: “Trust in My Ability to Lead Others”
At the western ceremony, Kayla Collins from North Huntington spoke about chances to a 1,250-person crowd of students and their family members. “In the future, you will all be presented with an infinite amount of choices and proposals,” she told the full arena. “With every decision you make, you have the chance to better yourself and the people around you.”
Kayla said she wrote what was in her heart and drew from experiences at her previous school where teachers told her and her classmates that they only had one chance to either clutch success or fall behind. This stirred fear that prevented her from taking on extracurriculars until her freshman year—her first year at PA Cyber. “It was only when I enrolled into this warm and inviting school that I found the courage to trust in my ability to lead others,” she said in her speech.
She served as executive editor of Newspaper Club for two years and as an IMPACT tutor for students in grades 3–6. She also joined Student Council and DECA.
When asked for advice for future graduates, Kayla stressed the importance of taking care of one’s own physical and mental health. She had witnessed her peers pulling all-nighters to study. She stayed up late, too, but found herself still falling behind in some classes. “I realized this was because I wasn’t taking care of myself,” she said. “Grades are important, but not more important than your wellbeing.”
Kayla is attending Seton Hill University with plans to earn a bachelor’s in experimental psychology and later a Ph.D. in neuroscience. She wants to become a professor in abnormal psychology.
Kayla’s friends have inspired her to enter the field of psychology. She has watched two friends develop similar mental health diagnoses after enduring comparable traumas. If she can study how experiences create psychological problems, she can learn how to resolve them.
See Kayla’s class representative speech.
Class Representative Elena Lichtenwalner: “I Am Worthy”
Elena Lichtenwalner spoke about perseverance to graduates and their families at the central/eastern ceremony. In her speech, she reflected on obstacles that graduates have persisted through in order to reach graduation. “Some of us had to go through perceived impossible situations to push through our own self-doubts,” she said to more than a thousand people. “…I feel this year has shown how important it is to be confident in working through the impossible.”
Elena achieved the impossible by graduating one year early. A Harrisburg resident, she enrolled at PA Cyber in August 2020 at the start of her sophomore year. In her first semester, Academic Advisor Hiedi Smith called and said if she continued to do well, she could add more classes to either graduate early or have less on her plate during senior year. Elena chose to take extra classes. In addition to her courseload, Elena belonged to Model United Nations Club, History Club, Global Education Club, and Literary Journal Club. Outside of school, Elena belonged to a youth group called Job’s Daughters International, which presented her with public speaking opportunities.
Juggling classes and other commitments was challenging. When she doubted her abilities to do it all, she repeated her mantra: I am worthy. Elena succeeded. Not only did she graduate early, but she did so with a 4.0 GPA.
She offered the following advice to future graduates: “Sometimes you’re going to be at a low point, but you’re going to find someone or something to pick you up so you can keep moving.” She also recommended finding your own mantra.
“Take the opportunities you can get,” she said. “Even if it’s the smallest thing, or adding extra classes into your schedule, you can come out with more opportunities and even more doors open for you.”
Elena’s biggest inspiration is her mother Beth Lichtenwalner, a high school English teacher at PA Cyber. Seeing her mother work through challenges has inspired Elena. When Elena’s grandfather died, she watched how her mother persisted as she wrapped up what he left behind. In another example, after enduring an eye injury, Beth voluntarily sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” when the production crew experienced technical difficulties at graduation. She then read hundreds of graduate names with one eye as she called them to the stage to receive their diplomas. “She’s always been someone who keeps moving forward,” Elena said.
Elena received a scholarship to attend Batten Honors College at Virginia Wesleyan University where she is studying English. The honors program puts a focus on international experiences and guarantees grants for study abroad.
Watch Elena’s speech.
Violinist Stephen Altomari: “It Was Exhilarating”
Stephen Altomari from the Class of 2022 played “Time to Say Goodbye” and “What a Wonderful World” on the violin for his largest audience yet at the central/eastern ceremony. The rich, sweet notes provided a moment of reflection for students and their families. A chapter was closing, but a new one was beginning. Some audience members’ eyes watered.
“I’ve never played for that many people before,” Stephen said. “I was super nervous before going up, but once I was up there, it was exhilarating. It really was a great experience.”
Stephen doesn’t plan to pursue a career in music. While his goal is to be involved in music as much as possible, he doesn’t plan to major or minor in it.
“It was an honor to play for the PA Cyber graduation,” he said. “I don’t think I’m ever going to play for that many people again. I appreciate it, from the bottom of my heart.”
Stephen, originally from Dresher, began studying pre-medicine at Pensacola Christian College in Florida this fall. His goal is to become a surgeon. “In medicine, you can take things apart, fix a few parts, and put it back together,” he said. “But it’s not something, it’s someone. Science is so advanced now. Helping people in that way would be phenomenal.”
He said his father is his biggest inspiration. Running his own dental practice today, Stephen’s father was the first in his family to become a doctor. “My father is a very good role model. He taught me how to work hard through example.”
When Stephen enrolled at PA Cyber for ninth grade, he didn’t think cyber school would be a good fit, but his parents asked him to try it for one year. “After the first year, I was like wow, I can do a lot, I can learn a lot,” he said. “This is a really good school. The way PA Cyber is structured, in order to do well, you have work hard. It gives kids an opportunity to try on their own and be good without a teacher in the room.”
Stephen offered advice for future graduates: “Work hard, make sure you stay on pace and put in the effort. Don’t get distracted. (I say that from my own experience. I have to make an effort not to be.) Make sure you do things outside of school and stay well-rounded. Get to know some of your classmates, maybe on social media. It’ll give you perspective.”
See Stephen’s performance.
Jennie Harris / firstname.lastname@example.org
About PA Cyber
Serving students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School (PA Cyber) is one of the largest, most experienced, and most successful online public schools in the nation. PA Cyber's online learning environments, personalized instruction methods, and choices of curricula connect Pennsylvania students and their families with state-certified and highly-qualified teachers and rich academic content that is aligned to state standards. Founded in 2000, PA Cyber is headquartered in Midland (Beaver County) and maintains a network of support offices throughout the state. As a public school, PA Cyber is open for enrollment by any school-age child residing in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and does not charge tuition to students or families.