PECKVILLE – As she welcomed her Holy Cross classmates to their graduation ceremony at Valley View’s John Henzes/Veterans Memorial Stadium on July 20, 2020, salutatorian Leslie O’Connor also gave them a mission moving forward.

“Let us all work harder at healing the world than we ever have at anything else in our lives,” the Archbald native challenged her peers. During her speech, O’Connor tackled a difficult topic – the fact that many people refuse to listen to one another and refuse to understand people who have different ideas.

“We surround ourselves solely with those who agree with us and seek to isolate ourselves from those with different points of view. We stigmatize, marginalize, generalize and stereotype those whose beliefs challenge our own without taking the time to learn the realities of these individuals, their situations or the basis for their opinions,” O’Connor said. True to her Catholic faith and what she learned at Holy Cross High School, O’Connor reflected on the life and message of Jesus to inspire her fellow graduates. She said Jesus’ message of “uncompromising, indiscriminate love” should be a guiding principle.

“What will produce healthy change, however, is truly putting Jesus’ message into action; loving those who don’t love us. Loving everyone. Treating our neighbors as we would want them to treat us. Being willing to spread our message to all and being even more willing to allow all other messages to be spread to us,” the Holy Cross salutatorian said.

“If we are willing to consider, listen to, and love the beliefs of all people, especially those opposing ourselves, our hearts and our communities will have no room for hate or division, as they shouldn’t.”

A total of 71 graduates received diplomas at the Commencement ceremony, which featured students wearing masks and sitting socially distant from each other in chairs on the football field due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Family and friends were able to watch from the stadium seats and dozens of others watched a livestream provided by the school. During her valedictorian address, Tori Kovalchick said it would be impossible to summarize the experiences of the Holy Cross Class of 2020 with a single story, but emphasized the well-rounded education all of the graduates received.

“What makes our story at Holy Cross especially unique is our ability to celebrate and explore our Catholic faith each day. We have been afforded the privilege to discern our character while deepening our relationship with God,” the Factoryville native said.

“We’ve shared the sacraments as a school community and learned the power of prayer.” Kovalchick added that the Holy Cross educational experience motivated the Class of 2020 to serve God by serving those around them and taught them that genuine discipleship goes far beyond attending Mass on Sundays.

“It involves treating God’s creation and children with respect every day,” Kovalchick explained. Of the 71 Holy Cross graduates, 60 of them will be attending four-year colleges or universities, more than half of which are Catholic colleges or universities. Five other graduates will attend two-year colleges, two will immediately enter the workforce and one plans on entering military service.

The Holy Cross Class of 2020 was awarded 406 scholarships, equating to an amount of $16,183,079.