COAL TOWNSHIP - The valedictorian ascended the steps and sauntered across the auditorium stage Friday at Shamokin Area Middle/High School. And then the unthinkable happened - she tripped.

The audience gasped. Several seconds of awkward silence followed.

Melissa Dawn Smallets tugged at her gown, readied herself behind the podium and spoke to the Class of 2014.

"Although many of you see my act of stumbling as a form of clumsiness, it was my attempt at depicting the importance of getting back up after each stumble or fall," Smallets said, letting everyone in on the gag.

One-hundred forty-one high school seniors crossed that same stage one by one, shook hands with district officials and accepted their diplomas. Once they descended and returned to their seats, that was it - they were high school graduates.

Daniel Delbaugh, class president, looked back to when his classmates were in elementary school. He wasn't at Shamokin Area at the time. It wasn't until his freshman year when he transferred. But he figured the primary school experience was an experience shared all around: coloring, snack time, recess.

Delbaugh reflected on the success his high school classmates achieved in athletics and the talent displayed in the school band. He spoke of the day-to-day challenges they shared adjusting to the use of metal detectors, restrictions on snacks and backpacks, "and Mr. Venna's lovely voice every morning with daily guidelines."

"In my four years at Shamokin, I believe I have had enough memories to make up for the eight years that I was not here," Delbaugh said.

'Greatly appreciated'

Helana Supsic, class vice president, spoke of the present and thanked everyone who had a role in encouraging she and her classmates to work to the best of their capabilities.

"You are a testament to our success and although not always rightfully praised, know you are all greatly appreciated," Supsic said.

No matter what successes life brings, she said they will all reflect fondly on their high school experiences. There will be some who may want to relive some moments: walking the school's halls with friends, playing beneath the lights at Kemp Memorial Stadium, cheering from the stands. It won't happen.

"No matter what you aspire to do with your future, whether you choose to stay around the area or leave this town in the rearview mirror and never look back, I ask you to cherish this moment and where we come from because while it is here now, it will never come again," Supsic said.

Brianna Bonshock, class secretary, thanked class advisors Sandra Rossnock and Maria Kelchner for their help with fundraising events and for serving as role models.

Looking forward, she said the future is uncertain. Plan as one might, some journeys are unknown.

"After tonight we will all be changed people ready to start a new chapter in our books. I hope you all make your book a story worth reading," Bonshock said.

Natalie Wolfe, class treasurer, presented the class gift: a refurbished sign on the middle/high school building near the swimming pool.

Joseph Colangelo, salutatorian, welcomed everyone to commencement. With about 24 hours to spare before graduation, he turned to Google and YouTube for inspiration. He urged his classmates to pursue their passions, believe in themselves and be persistent.

"Take risks. Think of life as a challenge, not as a threat," Colangelo said.

'First class'

Chris Venna, high school principal, joked with the class of 2014. A frequent target of the Shamokin Memes Facebook page, he had a photo from the page projected onto the auditorium wall of his face and bald head on the Mr. Clean logo. He gave a wink-and-nod to the class as he tossed snack food, a ball cap, a hoodie and a cell phone from a backpack: all restricted from the classrooms this year.

He called the class of 2014 "first class," saying their character was deserving of the moniker. They're intelligent, polite, proactive and resilient, he said. They set the bar for certain academic achievements and performed well in athletics and in the performing arts.

"You are 100 percent first-class people," Venna said.

Smallets, the valedictorian, spoke about the perseverance displayed by her classmates. She recalled Michael Jordan once said he missed 9,000 shots, lost 300 games and missed the game-winning shot 26 times.

"'And that is why I succeed,'" Smallets quoted Jordan.

"We must realize that it takes failure and hardship to truly appreciate success when it comes our way. My wish for the senior class is to live life to the fullest, remembering along the way that it is OK to fail. How you handle the situation will determine your success," she said.

Graduates

James Robert Adams, Batool Fakhruddin Alvi, Stacia Frances Angelo, Jacob Benjamin Arnold, Catherine Nichole Augustitus, Steven John Balonis, Daulton Bocephus Baumerts, Elizabeth Anne Bednar, Elizabeth Anna Bensinger, Alisha Nicole Black, Hunter Matthew Bloom, Corey Robert Bohner, Brianna Claire Bonshock, Olivia Paige Carol Bonshock, Jasmine Marie Breslin, Alyssa Nicole Britton, Kelsey Jorden Bryant, Logan John Carpenter, Kylie Marie Christiana, Cearra Denise Chipolla, Andrew Craig Claycomb, Joseph Samuel Colangelo, Jordan Michael Collins, Eryn Leigh Cook, Chelsie Marie Cossari, Dishaun Oran Cuevas, Nicole Ashley Cullen, Nicholas James Davis, Daniel James Delbaugh, Tabitha Ann Demsko, Joseph Albin Deptula, Cody Lee Derr, Michael Alexander Donahue, Breanna Nicole Dowling, Brendan Charles Drachler and Sara Renee Drumheiser.

Noelle Marie Erickson, Caitlin Marie Fellin, Annamaria Finkelstein, Ty Oakley Fisher, Justin Joseph Forbes, Kelsey Marie Forbes, Megan Emily Goodrich, Kayla Marie Gordon, Kenya Chantel Graham, Alyssa Jordan Green, Katelyn Renee Green, Nathaniel Thomas Haggerty, Ned James Hartman, Mitchell Walter Haupt, Molly Elise Haupt, Stefanie Lynn Hile, Kyle Blake Hoffman, Samantha Jo Holdren, Faith Marie Hornberger, Jennifer Rebecca Hornberger, Skylar Kord Hughes, Tyler David Hughes, Austin Michael Huntington, Ashley Nicole Huxta, Richard Raymond Jones Jr., Jeffrey Lee Kashner Jr., Kevin Garth Keefer, Robert Francis Kozar, Robert Lee Kulish, Zachary Alexander Lehman, William Charles Leon, Corey Jason Levi, Kiersten Elizabeth Lindstrom, Ralph Charles Lolla, Selah Justine Claire Lucas, Chelsea Catherine Lytle, Jaelyn Jennifer Madara, Dana Marie Madl, Sean Michael McLaughlin, Caroline Joy McSurdy, Donna Miller, Draven Lee Miller, Marielle Marie Miller, William Earl Moll IV, Mariah Beth Mong, Laryah Lynn Moyle, Catelin Mae Pancher, Joshua Thomas Pappas, Tiffani Ann Pellowski, Brian Keith Persing, Danielle Anne Polidario and Morgan Mary Purcell.

Noah Gregory Rachau, Scott Melvin Reed, Matthew John Renn Jr., Adam Otto Richardson, Lea Elizabeth Richardson, Melissa Elizabeth Rishel, Elizabeth Rose Roberts, Levi Matthew Rosini, Trisha Joyce Rosini, Kaylyn Shaye Rubendall, William John Ruch, Michael Thomas Rumberger, Johnathan Robert Sanders, Lydia Marie Sandri, Joshua Hunter Scheuren, Kevin David Searls, Robert Nathan Searls, Brooke Nichole Sejuit, Anthony Michael Shalamanda, Ryan Michael Shevitski, Paul Michael Shingara, Courtney Beth Shirmer, Alyssa Marie Shuey, Kaitlyn Marie Shultz, Kristina Anne Slodysko, Melissa Dawn Smallets, Jodi Ann Smith, Abrielle Nicole Snyder, Russell Snyder, Victoria Elizabeth Snyder, Michael Lonh Som, Michael Irwin Sosnoskie, Caleb George Stahl, Bailey Paris Stank, Kent Hilred Stewart IV, Austin James Stine, Helana Anne Supsic, Brandon Mychael Taylor, Erik Robert Taylor, John Charles Thompson, Zachary Phillip Timco, Abigail Rose Troutman, April Marie Troutman, Elizabeth Brenna Vittorio, Jasmine Whitney Wagner, Corinne Christine Weikel, Brianna Rae Wengrenovich, Ryan Stephen Wilk, Shane Mathew Xavier Williams, Natalie Elaine Wolfe, Nicole Lee Wyland, Mercedes Lynn Yost and Ronald James Zimmerman Jr.