Lancaster County Academy 2016 graduates step into their future

Published on LancasterOnline on June 12 and in print on June 13.

Sometimes traditional schools doesn’t work for everyone — and that’s OK.

For 17 seniors, Lancaster County Academy’s June 11 commencement could not have come fast enough. Students adorned in black caps and gowns sat down on stage, nervously looking at the audience.

Diane Tyson, the director of Lancaster County Academy, talked about the goals and missions of the academy and the requirements that it took for the students on stage at Conestoga Valley Middle School where the commencement ceremony was held.

“They had to learn how to learn,” she said, emphasizing time management and motivation as two key concepts the academy taught students. “(We wanted you to) gain wisdom, patience and self-confidence at Lancaster County Academy.”

The academy — sometimes called the “mall school” because it is located at Park City Center — was founded in 1993 and now caters mostly to students at risk of dropping out from traditional schools. Often, these students have faced challenges such as pregnancy, substance abuse or other issues.

In a speech titled “The Unknown,” senior Sam Solt talked about the importance of growing into an adult, and emphasized that it was more than just working.

“It’s really time to rest our bones,” he said. “We accomplished this … We didn’t do it on our own, though.” Solt thanked parents, teachers and other students for their contributions in making graduation happen.

Pride in the school and surrounding community was also emphasized in 2008 graduate Kim Fritz’s speech. “Surround yourself with like-minded people,” she said. “(And) don’t compare your happiness to others.”

The superintendent of Conestoga Valley School District, Gerald Huesken, remembered the life of late assistant principal Perry Pritchard, who died unexpectedly last August. Huesken said Pritchard believed heavily in the fact that “all students had their gifts to share,” and was one of the biggest supporters of Lancaster County Academy.

After graduation, the seniors met in the back to return their caps and gowns. “We were so nervous to get it over with,” said recent graduate Nikki Sang.

Sang had two kids and worked full time, but she knew that getting her diploma was a big deal. “My kids motivated me,” she said. “I just wanted to be able to say that I did it.”

She added that there were days where she just didn’t feel like going to school, but she said that she had people there who influenced her to do her best, including Tyson, the academy’s director.

“They give you a lot of chances,” Sang said. “If you have kids, it’s a good place to go.”

Sang, like many other seniors, has a plan on where she’s going with life; she is taking the certified nursing assistant certification test soon.

Lancaster County Academy provides resources and emphasizes career plans for the future, and the seniors provided the time and energy it took to graduate.

For these 17 seniors, Saturday was the first step into their new future as high school graduates.

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