NPA Class of 2024 Graduates with Wisdom and Hope

By Sean Openshaw.

Flagstaff, AZ: On May 16, 2024, Northland Preparatory Academy (NPA) held its graduation ceremony for the Class of 2024 at Northern Arizona University's Ardrey Auditorium. Seventy-nine students crossed the stage, marking the end of their high school journey and the beginning of their next chapter. The ceremony featured heartfelt speeches from NPA Superintendent David Lykins, Principal Jay Litwicki, Valedictorian William Grant Berger, and history teacher Austin Kerr.

After a bilingual welcome from NPA students, Ashe West and Jennifer Delaney, Superintendent David Lykins opened the ceremony by acknowledging the vital role of NPA's faculty and staff in the students' education. He then turned his attention to the graduating class, emphasizing their significance and multifaceted achievements.

"And no recipe would be complete without the third ingredient, which is our key ingredient," Lykins said. "And it's the amazing recipe that we use for success as our students who you entrust to attend NPA Daily. The seniors on the stage behind me are not only excellent students, amazing artists, creative performers, competitive and successful athletes, but they are also leaders, role models, peer tutors and community service-minded young adults who are prepared to close this chapter and this journey of their life and march confidently and boldly into the next."

Lykins ended his speech with an inspirational quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." 

Principal Challenges Graduates to Consider the Purpose of Education.

Principal Jay Litwicki gave the graduates a "crash course in the wisdom of Mr. Litwicki" drawn from "a lifetime of aphorisms that I have gleaned from a haphazard exposure to various philosophies, religion, psychology, B-films, and classic rock lyrics." He urged the graduates to keep an open mind while making sure it is not empty.

"Learn from everyone, follow no one, watch for patterns, and work like hell," he advised, quoting comic book historian Scott McCloud.

Litwicki challenged the Class of 2024 to consider the purpose of their education, posing the question of whether career, citizenship or character is most important.

"You're in charge now. Experience trumps instruction," he said before asking the graduates to discuss and vote on which "C" they valued most - to which they voted "character" as the most important.

His parting words were simple: "Thank you for four great years. My class is dismissed."

Valedictorian Reflects on Unique High School Journey, Shares Crowdsourced Wisdom.

Valedictorian William Grant Berger thanked the school's teachers, faculty, staff, coaches, club organizers, and families. He also tongue-in-cheek praised "the infinite wealth of knowledge provided by ChatGBT, Google Translate, Quizlet, and Photomath," joking that "these valuable study resources ensured that many of us would be sitting here today."

Berger reflected on the unique challenges the Class of 2024 faced, being "the last class to have gone to high school during the height of a global pandemic."

Despite the hardships, Berger focused on the bright spots and inside jokes that defined their high school experience. Berger humorously acknowledged the unprecedented challenges his class faced starting high school during the pandemic.

"We never got the traditional first day of high school, a first homecoming, or the chance to go on the 9th-grade river trip, a fact that I am still only slightly upset about. No. Instead, we persevered through online classes filled with black screens and sleeping students."

He described how returning to in-person learning as sophomores meant "becoming inevitable victims of mask fishing". He reminisced about memorable classes like "the unforgettable world history lectures of Mr. Jameson's class where he would pretend to sacrifice classmates, the Aztec gods, and lecture with a passion one can only hope to find in their career."

Berger also shared some lighthearted complaints about junior year challenges like "driving through Sinagua parking and then making the perilous quarter-mile walk to school every morning," which was made even harder when "Mother Nature decided to test us further when she broke all the records and dumped an unprecedented 12 feet of snow."

He shared advice crowdsourced from his fellow graduates, such as talking to more people, not taking academics too seriously, and, most importantly, not wishing the days away.

"After all, the point of school is to learn something," Berger said. "This first bit of advice was by far the most repeated. Talk to more people and be more open to making friends. You never know who is a nice or fun person unless you talk to them and are willing to take that first step. Sometimes, the coolest people are not who you would expect and sticking with the same group can get boring. The second most repeated bit of advice and proof that I really did ask my classmates is to not take academics so seriously. According to my classmates, your academics are not the end all be all of school. Learning to let go, accept the bad grade and move on is much more valuable than the stress of constantly worrying about your grades."

Towards the end of his speech, he reiterated the importance of appreciating each moment rather than just counting down to graduation - sage advice he'd received from his older brother, Jack.

"We may not have had the traditional first day of high school, but we did get to sleep in until five minutes before class, click a button, and then roll back over to sleep, which is something I often wished for this year."

"If you are always counting, always expecting the next big or great thing to happen, you will miss out on the little things along the way, which make the waiting more than bearable, but enjoyable," Berger said, concluding with a quote from Kung Fu Panda.

"Kung Fu Panda's Grandmaster Oogway was right on the money when he said, we are too concerned with what was and what will be. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today, today is a gift," Berger said.

Teacher Learns Valuable Lessons from Class of 2024.

After taking to the stage and rotating the podium to face the graduates, history teacher Austin Kerr took them back to their first day at NPA in August 2017.

"Without realizing it, together we all started at NPA, embarking on journeys that wind us, putting us right here," he said. Kerr admitted that as a new teacher, he focused more on his survival than noticing the incoming sixth graders. "While you were learning how to work a locker, I was learning how to work the copier," he joked.

When Kerr officially met the Class of 2024 two years ago, he tried to be a "tough guy" teacher but soon realized "shoehorning you into some sort of submission was only going to end poorly for all of us. Teaching is about trust," he said. Kerr grew to love and learn from his students over countless class periods, van rides to Phoenix, shared lunches and pickleball games. 

"You've taught me to never give up," he said, marveling at the grit of students who overcame injuries and medical conditions. "You showed me through your strength and optimism that despite these struggles, we could come up with solutions together."

The graduates also taught Kerr to be a "grown-up teacher" and renewed his passion for the profession. "You've taught me that you can advocate for yourself and that I can support you, that you can push through obstacles, even if I'm one of them," he said.

As they prepare to go their separate ways, Kerr acknowledges the bittersweetness of this ending and beginning.

"Chapters closing are time wasted," he said. "But for the last two years, we've been a part of each other's stories, and we can always be one of the many chapters for each other, despite where we end up."

In closing, Kerr invited the graduates to "Come on back to room 209 every once in a while. I promise the snack drawer will always be full, and the window will always be open."

After a senior slideshow and the diploma presentation, the ceremony concluded with the traditional moving of the tassels.

Salutatorian Brooke Turner and student body president Mina Khatibi-Noori invited the graduates to shift their tassels from right to left, "joining a select company of educated men and women."

With a triumphant cheer of "We did it!" and graduation caps flying, the NPA Class of 2024 celebrated the end of one journey and the start of many more.

The NPA band played behind the stage of the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony.
Graduates walk across the stage of the2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony.
Graduates perform at the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony
Jennifer Delaney gives a welcome speech at the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony.
Superintendent David Lykins  gives a welcome speech at the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony.
Ashe West  gives a welcome speech at the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony.
Photographer Jake Bacon photographs the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony at NAU's Audrey Auditorium..
Principal Jay Litwicki gives a welcome speech the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony at NAU's Audrey Auditorium.
NPA Principal Jay Litwicki gives a speech the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony at NAU's Audrey Auditorium.
NPA Valedictorian Grant Berber gives a speech the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony at NAU's Audrey Auditorium.
NPA history teacher Austin Kerr gives a speech at the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony at NAU's Audrey Auditorium.
NPA Valedictorian Grant Berger gives a speech at the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony at NAU's Audrey Auditorium.
Luke Applin raises his hands in triumph after setting off a confetti cannon at the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony at NAU.
Graduates walk at the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony at NAU.
Graduates get their diploma at the 2024 NPA Graduation Ceremony at NAU.

NPA senior photoshoot

Go behind the scenes of the Class of 2024 senior day photoshoot with Flagstaff photographer, Sean Openshaw as he photographs each of the 79 Northland Preparatory Academy graduates.

Sean Openshaw is a Flagstaff photographer and storyteller. Sean combines photos, videos and words to help you capture what a moment means, not just what it looks like.