A significant life chapter ended May 31 for the more than 300 graduating seniors of North Royalton High School, and now, it’s time for a much-anticipated plot twist.
Rachel Dawson, a student speaker at the Commencement Ceremony held at Playhouse Square’s State Theatre, addressed her fellow graduates and creatively compared their journey to that of a rich story with colorful characters, cliffhangers, sections to re-read over and over again because they’re that good, paragraphs to quickly skim and parts to skip entirely (though they inspired character development).
“Even though our pages have run out, our stories are far from over. May it be college, trade school, military, or the start of our careers, our best-selling sequels are yet to be written,” she said to the attentive crowd. “Today is the last page of our books entitled, ‘High School,’ but it is also the first page of the rest of our lives. Here’s to the new stories beginning tonight.”
Dawson, who served as vice president of National Honor Society and participated in band, Student Council, Students Together Against Drugs and Alcohol (STAND) and drama, will attend Duquesne University in Pennsylvania to study pharmacy, according to information released by the school district.
Incoming Cleveland State University freshman Anjali Shaji, who will major in computer science, also addressed her fellow NRHS graduating class. Shaji was active in Key Club and volunteered in the high school’s Main Office, according to information released by the school district. Shaji communicated the importance of embracing failure and taking risks.
“Humans have been taught from our childhood to be smart, to never take risks, to play it safe and to always be successful at everything that we do,” Shaji said. “However, today, I propose each one of us be risk takers and failures. I know this doesn’t sound realistic or practical, but either is life; so take risks.”
Any North Royalton High School senior can try-out to be a featured Commencement speaker, said Principal Sean Osborne. Interested students write and prepare a potential speech and present their work before a panel of teachers, counselors, administrators and other students trying out. Selected students then work with an English teacher to refine their speech and presentation skills.
Superintendent Greg Gurka also addressed those gathered in the State Theatre audience. He resourcefully compared the school’s active construction site – and the disruption it suddenly brought – to learning to adapt to the messiness of life.
“As you continue on, you will experience the excitement of what is ahead and also the nervousness of what is ahead. But the promise of something great is always on the horizon,” he said. “Yes, there will be the confusion of trying to make sense of situations that arise and there will be obstacles in your way. But remember the promise of what lies ahead. Just like a construction site, one day the challenge of the dirt, noise and disruptions will give way to something beautiful. During your lifetime, you will endure the chaos, the nervousness and the confusion, and greatness will be your end-product. You have all the tools at your disposal to take those next steps, so be sure to stay the course and make sure you allow yourself the freedom to dream big.”
Gurka also encouraged graduates to envision their futures.
“It is time now to embrace using your imagination. It is time to close your eyes and imagine what your life can be and where you want to go,” he said. “It is time now to use your imagination to think about what you will do to help others and to make tomorrow better than today. And then go out and make it a reality. No thought or idea that can be imagined is wrong.”
Dr. John Kelly, president of the North Royalton Board of Education, also addressed attendees and graduates, giving a witty speech on how practical tools can be proverbial instruments for success – the wrench to be adaptable and flexible, vice grips so graduates can “hang on for the ride,” a tape measure to see how personal goals and expectations measure up, among many others. He also shared simple words of advice about the importance of sleep and maintaining healthy life habits. And for added smiles and insight, the ways of the spider monkey, which could avoid being captured if it smartly let go of food set in a trap, and the lobster, which continually produces new and larger shells as it matures, and the school bus, which should have key people on it as graduates “drive” through life.
“And now, we close the toolbox for now. What is added next is up to you,” Kelly said. “As you move onto the next phase of your life, there are some truths I believe you will discover. The $30 Timex and the $3,000 Rolex tell you the same time. Whether you are in the $200,000 Mercedes-Maybach or the $4,000 five-year-old Corolla, the traffic jam doesn’t clear any faster and it is just as aggravating. Those who love you, will never leave you, even if there are 100 reasons to give up. They will always find one reason to hold on. As you travel on your life’s journey from tonight, love and cherish the people God sends to you, one day he’s going to ask for them back.”
The North Royalton High School Class of 2019 chose “Sweet Victory” as their Class Song, Purple and White as their Class Colors, the Sunflower as Class Flower and “Let’s Get This Bread” (a pop culture phrase referring to embracing the daily grind and earning money) as their Class Motto. Class Officers are President Margaret Kaniecki, who welcomed everyone to the Commencement event, and Vice President Mason Montag. Roll Call was read by Montag and Drew Vargo. The United States Marine Corps Color Guard performed the Presentation of Colors followed by the playing of the National Anthem by the Commencement Band.
According to information released by the school district, 57.2 percent of graduates plan on attending a four-year college, 25 percent a two-year college, 16 percent are joining the workforce and 1.6 percent are enlisting in the military.
Graduates with cap toss photo by North Royalton City Schools
Commencement photos by Lifetouch Photography

Contributing Writer