WINCHESTER — Graduates from James Wood High School’s Class of 2019 were reminded of the sacrifices made by the country’s military as their commencement ceremony fell on the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

About 290 students received diplomas Thursday night in Kelican Stadium, with a moment of silence held at the start of the ceremony to honor the historic day. Keynote speaker Fritz Polite, Shenandoah University’s Assistant Dean of Student Affairs and an Army veteran, called World War II’s D-Day the greatest military operation in the history of the world.

He told the graduates that no matter what knocks them down in life, it’s important to not give up. After all, he noted, the soldiers who died on D-Day did it for them.

“They lied down so you can get up,” Polite said.

He asked for the community to send the graduates into a world of love, with compassion for others and to call on them to be agents of change fighting against hatred and bigotry.

“Let this journey be remembered and celebrated and then let the journey continue as one that looks to better our society,” Polite said.

JWHS Principal Sam Gross challenged the graduates to remember and embody the three values the school begins each day with — respect, connect and do your best.

“You are our future and if you accept this challenge with an open heart and conviction, our society will flourish because of it,” Gross said.

Johannes Hollebrandse, co-valedictorian with Darcy Carroll, told the crowd that life is like a hacker and people are the passwords. Hollebrandse said their strength can improve through a diversity of character sets and length.

“That is to say each of us is strengthened by having a diversity of experience,” Hollebrandse said.

As freshman, he said the Class of 2019 began as simple, easy-to-guess passwords such as “1234” or even the dreaded “password” password. As their time progressed, students formed relationships, played sports and went through new experiences, forming stronger passwords.

Hollebrandse added that it’s important to ask for help and to seek guidance from elders.

The Class of 2019 announced that its gift to the school will be two signs that say “Colonels” for the stadium and gymnasium. The class also donated $3,000 for the purchase of an electronic scorer’s table to be placed in the main gym.

Upon the completion of the 69th commencement ceremony at JWHS, a new tradition was launched with the firing of a cannon as the graduates threw their caps in the air.

— Contact Anna Merod at

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