It's a common misunderstanding that commencement exercises at high schools and universities commemorate the end of something and not the beginning.

It is true that the years of preparation leading up to graduation are celebrated, while there is a touch of sadness about leaving much-loved friends behind as graduates travel their own life paths. However, the main emphasis is the new beginning - the new life - that lies before the graduates.

For me, Richard F. Beierschmitt, better known as "Rich," "Richie" or "Mr. B.," will be forever associated with commencement. When I was a reporter covering the Mount Carmel Area School District, Rich made my job easy for graduation ceremonies.

As principal of the junior-senior high school, he gave me a list of the award and scholarship winners, as well as copies of the speeches students would give.

Years later, Rich was Mount Carmel Area superintendent when he hired me as a history and English teacher. I had the privilege of walking in procession with him, administrators, fellow teachers and graduating seniors at commencement exercises.

This year, Rich was accorded the well-deserved honor of being the guest speaker at MCA's commencement. Then, shockingly, he died suddenly two days later at the much-too-young age of 65.

Sadness is inevitable as his family, friends and former colleagues and students deal with the loss of such a person. Fortunately, this emotion is also accompanied by joy and gratitude at the memories of Rich as an educator and as friend, mentor or relative.

In their grief, those who knew him must keep in mind that Rich Beierschmitt was a man with a deep faith in God. As such, his death was the not end; it was only the beginning.

It is the commencement of a new life for Rich, a life without end that he will eventually share with God and those who loved him.

+++

With God, our end is only the beginning.