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Cardinal O’Hara graduates Class of 2021

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Brandon Lyles, a 2011 graduate of Cardinal O’Hara High School in Tonawanda, returns to his alma mater to give the keynote address at the 57th graduation ceremony. He told of how he rose from a challenging childhood to a data & analytics leader at Rich Products. Photo courtesy of Cardinal O’Hara High School

TONAWANDA — A dynamic speech by a 2011 graduate conveyed a message to the Cardinal O’Hara High School graduating seniors of resilience and the importance of following one’s own path.

Brandon Lyles ’11, presented the keynote address at the 57th graduation ceremony at Cardinal O’Hara, telling about the challenges and tragedies he’s faced from childhood. He told the students that they have to find their own path, stay on it, and look forward to the life they envision. Lyles is a data & analytics leader and product owner at Rich Products.

Cardinal O’Hara graduated 73 students at an outdoor ceremony on May 27 in the school parking lot. Parents and guests were seated in groups of six, with the faculty and students in front of the stage that was provided by the Town of Tonawanda Recreation and Parks Department.

Joanne Pera, faculty chair was master of ceremonies. Josh Maier, a history teacher at Cardinal O’Hara, gave the reflection on the year and the highs and lows caused by the pandemic and how Cardinal O’Hara continued with in-school learning for the whole year.

Chairman of the board of trustees Michael Rizzo gave his thoughts on the difficulties of the past year and how it affected not only Cardinal O’Hara but also businesses and restaurants.

Salutatorian Haley Siegel and valedictorian Jillian Phillips each talked about their years at Cardinal O’Hara, praising the teachers and staff for making the four years go by in a flash.

Athletic director Tony Pulverenti presented Athlete of the Year awards to Sydney Mountain and Henry Smith.

The ceremony ended with a final tribute by Principal Mary Holzerland who told the audience that this class, even in the time of Covid, garnered $12 million in college scholarships. She congratulated the class on its more than 11,000 service hours and ability to overcome the demands put on them by Covid rules and regulations. In addition, she said, all graduates earned Regents diplomas and many with an Advanced Designation with Honors diploma.  Many of these students also have earned Mastery in Math and/or Science. This diploma is given to students who not only pass all additional regents exams, but pass them with an average of 90 or higher.

Colin Sperrazza, chair of the music department, orchestrated the school song by blending the Song Corps voices and the band, ending the school song with a quote from the finale of Stravinsky’s Firebird. “It was meant to symbolize the resilience and strength of our students rising from adversity stronger than they were before, specifically related to the pandemic,” Sperrazza said.

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