Young heroes

Pennsbury High School hosts socially distant ceremony to recognize graduates entering the armed forces

A proud rep: Pennsbury graduate Catherine Joanna Mei Smith was honored by Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick during a special ceremony, which recognized the 16 students planning to enter the armed forces. Smith will attend the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs. Source: Karl Smith

Although Pennsbury High School’s large-scale commencement on June 10 was forced to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration was able to safely recognize in-person 16 of the 780 seniors, each of whom plans to serve in America’s armed forces.

An intimate, socially distant ceremony was held outside on Tuesday, June 16, in the school’s East Campus bus dock area, for the students and their immediate family members.

Following the national anthem, sung by Pennsbury junior and JROTC member Gracie Maccarella, the teens were recognized by Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick – a former FBI special agent.

“We’re in the midst of heroes today,” Fitzpatrick said, describing their decision to join the armed forces as admirable. “That’s to serve a cause bigger than yourselves. And if you’re good enough to join the military, you are good enough for any job out there and you will never regret that decision, I can promise you.”

Guest of honor: Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick made remarks at Pennsbury High School’s recent ceremony to recognize the 16 graduates planning to serve in America’s armed forces. Source: YouTube Screenshot

He brought to attendees’ attention a young German immigrant named Emanuel Leutze, who painted George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River – an action that led to the surprise defeat of the Hessians in the Battle of Trenton. Though this historic event occurred on Christmas night in 1776, Leutze didn’t create his painting until 1851. The piece shows 13 people in a boat, which Leutze said represents the 13 colonies.

“There’s an African American, there’s a Native American, there’s a Scotsman, there’s a woman, there’s a farmer,” said Fitzpatrick. “When asked, ‘You don’t know who was in that boat. You don’t know any of the circumstances, it was over 70 years ago,’ Emanuel said, ‘Based on what I know about America, that’s who I thought would’ve been in the boat on that night. People from all different backgrounds, all on the same boat, all rowing in the same direction.’ That’s the nation that you are all now going to serve.”

Fitzpatrick thanked the students for “loving their country more than they love themselves,” as well as their parents for raising children who wish to serve the nation at a time when it’s needed most.

Next up to the podium was VFW District 8 Commander Tom Hauserman, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy from 1965 to 1969. Hauserman was asked to speak on the subject of “desire to serve.” According to Hauserman, people often join the military for the honor, and to secure a good future upon their return to the civilian world. But there’s also the unexpected bonus of friendship and camaraderie among soldiers.

“That bond, or sense of trust, will not only extend to the people that you will be serving with today, but you will understand what it means to be a veteran and be able to connect with veterans that served our nation in past years,” he said.

Words of wisdom: VFW District 8 Commander Tom Hauserman, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy from 1965 to 1969, spoke on the subject of “desire to serve.” Source: YouTube Screenshot

Hauserman quoted actor Adam Driver, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran best known for his portrayal of Kylo Ren in the Star Wars series: “In the military, you learn the essence of people. You see so many examples of self-sacrifice and moral courage. In the rest of life, you don’t get that many opportunities to be sure of your friends.”

Pennsbury superintendent Dr. William Gretzula said a few words, informing the students they’ll always be viewed as heroes whenever they visit the district.

“School closure might have stripped you of the ability to celebrate your last year here at Pennsbury High School with some of your friends, but it didn’t strip you of your character. With your commitment to joining our nation’s military, you are already heroes,” he said. “Yet how far you’ve come isn’t close to how far you can go.”

Sharing Gretzula’s sentiment was Pennsbury school board president T.R. Kannan.

“Students are typically referred to as leaders of the future, but you’re leaders today. What I see before me are young adults who have taken control of their own destiny with this important decision to move up into the armed forces. With this decision, you’re already in the driver’s seat,” Kannan said. “All of us should be comfortable having leaders like you drive us into the future.”

Kannan added how the military has been vital in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic by distributing hand sanitizer, freeing up materials from stockpiles, mobilizing hospital ships, building field hospitals, setting up testing labs and researching a vaccine.

Each student was called up to receive a certificate of recognition, along with a star recently removed from a retired U.S. flag before it was honorably burned at the Washington Crossing National Cemetery.

The students are: Jordan D. Emmett (United States Marine Corps); Colin Michael Farence (Army National Guard); Cory Lucas Giller (United States Army); Jessica M. James (Army National Guard); Kamya J. Jefferson (United States Army); Nicholas D. Kelleher (United States Marine Corps); Austin Lee Menendez (United States Army); Colin William Miller (United States Marine Corps); Liam R. Paupst (United States Army); Samuel J. Ruta (United States Military Academy, West Point); Mason Michael Tyler Ryan (United States Army); David J. Seibert Jr. (United States Marine Corps); Catherine Joanna Mei Smith (United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs); Lucas John Smith (United States Navy); Joseph Theodore Struk (United States Navy); and Luke E. Tiroly (United States Navy).

“We wish you fair winds and following seas,” concluded Pennsbury High School assistant principal Patricia Steckroat.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at

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