COAL TOWNSHIP - Seeking inspiration for his valedictorian speech, William H. Stewart III looked to a story he read in French class at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional High School, "The Little Prince," by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

It's the tale of a young boy who leaves his small planet to find new worlds and meet new people. He meets a fox who tells him, "You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed." "To tame," meaning to create a bond and put time and effort in a friendship.

"The time we've spent in the last four years has allowed us to 'tame' each other," Stewart said to his 17 fellow graduates during commencement Thursday evening in the Lee E. Korbich Memorial Gymnatorium. "Overcoming obstacles, accomplishing new things, and going through difficult times together are all ways that we have tamed each other."

Stewart said it is the memories the class has created together that make the sadness of separating worthwhile.

"It is the memories they made while taming each other that make the bond permanent," Stewart said.

He thanked families, teachers, coaches and everyone who has been part of the class of 2014's experience.

"As Lourdes alumni, we will all begin new chapters of our lives, but the chapter we wrote here, and the effects we've had on one another through taming

each other here at Our Lady of Lourdes, will always remain with us," Stewart said.

Salutatorian Nicholas Peter Taylor used a quote from former Philadelphia Flyers coach Fred Shero, who once said, "Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire."

"The idea behind this quote is that we cannot be successful by mere luck or an accident," Taylor said, "but rather through that driving passion which causes us to work our hardest to achieve our goals."

Taylor said that through those who always demanded their best efforts - teachers, coaches and parents - they were inspired and set "ablaze" physically, intellectually and spiritually. He challenged his classmates to not just be satisfied with just achieving success, but to continue to inspire others.

"We must use these flames to ignite the passions of others just as we are ignited," he said.

Guest speaker and 2002 Lourdes alumnus Amanda (Swartz) Sbriscia earned a bachelor of arts degree cum laude from Cedar Crest College, Allentown, and holds a master's of science in higher education administration from Drexel University. She is the director of annual giving and alumni relations at Bay Path College in Longmeadow, Mass.

She said students can learn lessons in life from the passions they carry.

"If you like it, and if you believe in it, do it," Sbriscia said. "This, in my opinion, is the definition of passion. It cuts to the core of what it truly means to be passionate about something, about some particular cause, activity or field of study."

She said her three great passions in life are communication, life-long learning and running. She is an accomplished marathon runner who has completed the Chicago and Hartford marathons.

"Marathon runners are notorious for offering encouragement to one another. They understand an important race principle: There is room at the finish for all of us," she said. "It isn't all about winning or losing, it is about the experience."

She asked the graduating class to compete less and encourage more. View life as a marathon, not as a sprint, and experience each mile instead of just rushing simply to get to the end.

"I hope that in your pursuit of your passions, you will remember to listen to the voices and encouragement of others, to communicate with intention, to seize every opportunity to learn something new, and to make each day a brand new starting line," Sbriscia said.

Livia A. Riley, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Harrisburg, gave brief remarks and conferred diplomas to the graduates, sending best wishes to the class from the bishop, the Most Rev. Ronald W. Gainer.

Principal Deacon Martin McCarthy introduced the speakers and, at the end of the ceremony, recognized six teachers from Lourdes Regional School who will be retiring at the end of the year.

Honored with a standing ovation were religion and science teacher Joseph Litchko, social studies and French teacher Ann Mains, Spanish teacher Brian Major, family and consumer science teacher Barbara Reiprish and elementary teachers Mary Major and Betty Ann Corrigan.

"All total, these six teachers represent close to 200 years of experience in teaching and we thank them all for their service to education and to Lourdes," McCarthy said.

The school will also say goodbye to housekeeping worker Doris Ginck, who is retiring after 14 years.

William J. Gilger, dean of students and religion and health teacher at Lourdes, presented the class for graduation. The Very Rev. Al P. Sceski, school chaplain and pastor of Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Church, Elysburg, gave the invocation and benediction.

Graduates are William Joseph Bittner, Anthony M. Catino, Riley Stewart Feese, Michael Paul Gilger, Aaron Anthony Greager, Wyatt Kenneth Hoffman, Shawn Khanna, Peyton J. Klembara, Edward Harry Kurtz III, Gabriella R. Long, Daniel Menapace, Angelique Pennypecker, Cody Rothermel, Rachel Leigh Schultz, William H. Stewart III, Nicholas Peter Taylor, Alexia Lauren Wheary and Kelsey Lynn Williams.