ATHENS -

The 138-member Athens Area High School Class of 2014 celebrated their graduation Friday night at Alumni Stadium.

Students received their hard-earned diplomas Friday in front of a standing-room-only crowd and were recognized for their achievements as they prepare for the next steps in their journeys.

Moving forward and following one's dreams were central themes for speakers at Friday's ceremony. Craig Stage, the district's director of educational programs and incoming interim superintendent, told students their educations at Athens provided them with the tools to not only move forward into adulthood, but to change the world.

"Always dream big, knowing you are well-prepared," Stage advised.

In her welcome speech, salutatorian Ariel Walter pondered the significance of a commencement ceremony. The word commencement means "a beginning or start," a concept that Walter admitted seemed strange to her at first. Originally, she viewed graduation as an ending, she said.

However, Walter said she came to realize that high school is "just the first little piece" in the journey of each member of her class. Each graduate is now free to take flight, she said, encouraging the class to "dream bigger and fly higher."

Valedictorian Mackenzie Hafer compared each student's journey to a treasure hunt, and each goal as the X that marks the spot. High school was a chance to locate the treasure, but now each member of the class is trusted to take his or her own path to find it, she said.

That path may have twists, turns, pirates and "fool's gold," and "we occasionally dig in the wrong spots," she said. However, with time and perseverance, each person will achieve his or her goal, Hafer said.

"Be patient to find your true treasure," she said.

Friday's ceremony marked the last for principal Beth Schulze, who is retiring after 14 years in the role. School board president Karen Whyte thanked Schulze for her service Friday on behalf of the board of education.

Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: arenko@thedailyreview.com.