YATESVILLE — The road to graduation wasn’t the smoothest for Pittston Area graduate Robert D’Eliseo, but you wouldn’t know it after spending a few moments with him.
When Robert was diagnosed with autism at age 2, doctors told the family he would need a harness and medication. The family decided not to take that route and began to learn more about the developmental disorder. The decision paid off, and after all of the hard work and dedication to his education, Robert shared one of his proudest moments with his family Thursday night.
Robert was awarded his high school diploma, along with 242 of his classmates, at the 50th Pittston Area commencement inside Charley Trippi Stadium.
“I was waiting to get this,” Robert said as he held up his diploma while taking photos with family and friends. “It feels good. I’m going to put it in my memory box.”
Ron and Brenda D’Eliseo, Robert’s parents, founded the Earthly Angels Autism Fund of the Luzerne Foundation in 2000 after Robert was diagnosed with autism. In the last 16 years, the fund has raised more than $200,000 for families and children living with autism. The foundation stemmed from the family’s first fundraiser, Ride For Robert, which raised around $40,000.
As a senior, Robert earned honors with distinction. Robert, the youngest of three children, is the third child of Ron and Brenda to graduate from Pittston Area.
In January, the graduate helped the Pittston Area wrestling team raise $1,200 for the foundation during a wrestling match against Wallenpaupack.
Going forward, Robert has aspirations to work at Pittston Area — his love for the school is profound. He’ll miss the familiar faces at the school, which is one of the reasons he wants to come back.
“I’m sad I’m graduating because I will miss my friends,” he said. “I’m happy because school is over and there is no more homework.”
He also had thanks for his parents.
“They helped me with everything,” Robert said.
Appreciation was a large part of the ceremony, as each valedictorian wrote letters of thanks to read on graduation night.
Pittston Area had nine valedictorians speak during commencement: Alyssa Bukevicz, Tara Johnson, Samuel Lizza, Katherine Musto, Haley Norwillo, Marley O’Brien, Eric Petroski, Alana Platukus and Julie Silinskie.
They had words of thanks to their family and friends, classmates, their teachers, their coaches and moderators, to their past selves, to the adversity they faced, and to their future selves.
Lizza opened the speech by reminding his fellow classmates to not forget the little things, such as the dress code or school lunches.
“Take a deep breath for all the things that come with graduating high school are over,” he said. “We need to think about the good, little things we will not get to experience.”
Johnson wrote a letter to “freshman Tara.” She reminded herself she would make it through her early math classes and that freshman aren’t supposed to look good.
Bukevicz had a message to her classmates.
“We are all part of each other’s past and possibly future,” she said. “Through the hard times and the happy times, we were there for each other. Our classmates will be one of the most important factors of our lives.”
Musto said the teachers have played a big role in the development of herself and her classmates.
“We’ve formed so many close bonds with our teachers,” she said. “Sometimes we forget they are teachers and call them by their first name, right Judy? I mean Mrs. Greenwald.”
Silinskie had a message for the class’ parents and family. She reminded her classmates it’s time for them to do their own homework.
“You have been there for us through it all,” she said. “Thank you for pushing us to do our best and reminding us how important school is.”
O’Brien had a letter to coaches and moderators. She said it’s not about the wins and losses.
“You are the real MVP,” she said. “Without you none of our accomplishments would exist.”
Musto, the class president, opened the commencement by thanking the seniors’ parents.
“Without you, our loved ones, we wouldn’t be able to succeed,” she said. “Each of us have made a mark on the school, which will not soon be forgotten. Remember to always keep that Patriot pride.”
Superintendent Kevin Booth shared the story of the 1980 U.S. hockey team, which beat the Soviet Union in the Olympics. He referred to the 2,300 days of school the students have endured over the pasted decade. He quoted U.S. hockey coach Herb Brooks.
“Great moments are born from great opportunities,” Booth said.
He also reminded students to not settle for being average.
“Whatever you decided to do, don’t be average, don’t settle,” he said. “Be the best.”
The class song is “My Wish,” which was performed by Taylor Baloga on vocals and the acoustic guitar, Sara Swartz on vocals and Sean Guziewicz on the electric guitar. Iana Davis sang the National Anthem, and Julia Stella led the seniors in Pittston Area’s alma mater song. Ryan Davis and Kyle Petroski led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance to start the ceremony.
To donate to Earthly Angels, mail a check payable to “Earthly Angels Autism Fund” to 32 Huckleberry Lane, Duryea, PA 18642. For more information email email@example.com.