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Tragedy fails to mar Franklin Regional Senior High School graduation

| Saturday, June 7, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Evan Sanders | Tribune-Review
Sara Pike, one of two valedictorians in the Franklin Regional graduating Class of 2014, acknowledges her parents while delivering her speech on Friday, June 6, 2014, at the high school graduation.

The stabbing spree on April 9 is what most of the country thinks of when they think of Franklin Regional, but those events don't define the class of 2014, Principal Ron Suvak told graduates Friday.

“The events of that day should not, will not define you,” Suvak said. “What then does define you? The myriad and multitude of your accomplishments before that day, your reactions on that day and your resiliency in leading our building since that day.”

Franklin Regional Senior High School seniors, clad in navy blue caps and gowns, gathered in the high school football stadium Friday evening under a brilliant, cloudless sky. Family and friends packed the bleachers with cameras and flowers in hand to mark the graduation of 306 seniors and the end of a tumultuous year.

While several speakers referenced the April 9 attacks in their remarks, none uttered Alex Hribal's name or mentioned what he is accused of doing: walking through the school with two 8-inch kitchen knives and slashing wildly at classmates.

Hribal, a sophomore, is accused of injuring 20 students and a security guard. He has been charged with 21 counts of attempted homicide, 21 counts of aggravated assault and one count of possessing a weapon on school property. He is being held without bail in the Regional Youth Services Center in Hempfield.

“I don't believe there is any disputing that this year we have persevered through the darkest day in our school's history,” said senior Connor Wolff, the student-selected commencement speaker.

“When we were faced with tragedy, we united as one. We banded together in courage and loyalty to stand up against anyone who dared try to take our school from us,” Wolff said. “That day will live on in all of us, hopefully not because of its tragic nature, but because of the infinite amount of goodness that has come out of it.”

In rows of chairs flanking the football field's 50-yard line, teachers surrounded the students as special invited guests.

Class officers typically invite a guest of honor to graduation but decided this year to invite all of their teachers from elementary through high school, district spokeswoman Mary Catherine Reljac said.

“This year's senior class officers felt they had bonded with their teachers in such a new way since April,” Reljac said.

“Not many communities could have banded together so strongly after the events of April 9, but we have,” co-valedictorian Sara Pike said. “And we've learned that as long as we persevere and stand tall, we can accomplish whatever we choose.”

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