Sunday's sunny skies and warm weather presented a picturesque backdrop for the 86 members of Elk County Catholic High School's senior class as they celebrated their graduation.
A large crowd of parents, families and friends gathered at the school for a morning Baccalaureate Mass and brunch, followed by the traditional graduation ceremony, which began at 12:30 p.m.
Prior to the start of the ceremony, Elk Catholic Headmaster John Kowach welcomed all in attendance during a brief address.
In addition to expressing his appreciation to the students, parents and families for their ongoing encouragement, support and guidance, Kowach noted several special moments which he shared with the class throughout the past year.
"Nothing can describe the love, pride and respect we have for these young adults," Kowach said.
Students and faculty then processed into the auditorium to the traditional graduation hymn of "Pomp and Circumstance" performed by the Elk County Catholic High School Band as part the school's 49th Annual Commencement Program.
The Rev. Nicholas J. Rouch, vicar of education for the Diocese of Erie and a former faculty member at ECC, offered an opening prayer. The prayer was followed by the playing of the national anthem by the ECC Band.
Class President Jessica McLaughlin introduced the student speakers, co-valedictorians Kylie Auman and Michelle Pistner.
Due to the school's new grading system and offering of new college-level courses, Auman and Pistner each had equal grades. It was decided to designate the pair as co-valedictorians rather than the traditional valedictorian and salutatorian arrangement.
Next Fr. Rouch offered comments acknowledging the students, parents and the sacrifices they have had to make in order to provide their children with a Catholic education.
"We hope and trust you are proud of the Catholic school system in Elk County and that it has done your children well," Fr. Rouch said.
He then acknowledged the local parish pastors.
In addition, Fr. Rouch expressed his gratitude to Kowach and his wife Mary Rae for their service to Elk County Catholic. According to information posted on the ECCHS website, Kowach will be leaving at the end of the current school year, as the headmaster position has been eliminated as a result of the administrative restructuring of the new Elk County Catholic School System. He was offered an administrative position at the diocesan level, but has chosen to accept another position in the Pittsburgh area in order to be closer to his family.
Fr. Rouch noted Kowach's 30 years of service to ECCHS, including 26.5 as headmaster.
"John Kowach leaves behind a rich legacy of Catholic educational leadership in St. Marys. His commitment to the Catholic faith, to students and to their educational success has been one of the major reasons that Catholic education is as strong as it is in Elk County," stated Fr. Rouch on behalf of Bishop Donald Trautman.
Fr. Rouch then briefly addressed the seniors.
"We are proud of you. Be proud of your Catholic education, carry it forward and share it," he said.
ECCHS Vice Principal John Schneider announced a variety of awards, which were presented to students by Kowach and ECCHS Principal Sandy Florig.
Faculty members Melissa Nicklas, guidance counselor, and Peter Winklbauer, art teacher, announced each of the graduates, who were presented their diplomas onstage by Fr. Rouch, Florig and Kowach.
Along with their diploma, each graduate received a one-year membership in the Seraphim Mass Association, where one Mass will be said for each student.
Of the 86 members of the senior class, 60 graduated with honors.
Following the awarding of diplomas, students were directed to move their tassels as they officially became Elk County Catholic alumni.
Sounds of celebration then filled the auditorium as the recent graduates celebrated their accomplishment by sounding air horns, tossing confetti and toilet paper into the air and batting around several beach balls.
Fr. Rouch offered a closing prayer, followed by the singing of the school alma mater.
The ceremony concluded as graduates took one final walk up the auditorium to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance."