The final month: Germantown High's last week starts with balloons, bells, speeches and a 'Great Walk' [video]
Just after 7 p.m., a cluster of black and green balloons slowly sailed into the evening skies over Germantown.
Beneath the floating orbs stood a small bunch of graduating seniors from Germantown High School, who released them at the end of a Monday night ceremony organized to celebrate their achievements.
The impromptu act seemed appropriate for a group of students who will scatter to different schools next year, but forever share the singular distinction of being GHS' final senior class.
Come Friday, the school will close after 99 years.
Neale Brooks, a member of the school's 146th and final senior class, is upset his future won't include visits to his alma mater. He's proud to be a Bear.
"I know people say another school looks better on your diploma, but I like the fact that I can say I came from Germantown because for all the bad things you hear about Germantown, look at what I've become," said Brooks, who will study graphic design at Penn State University.
Brooks was one of about 100 seniors who mixed with staff members and alumni on the school's courtyard following "The Great Walk: The Arch of History."
The soft-spoken teen rang a large bell as his classmates — all clad in white — circled the hulking, four-story school.
The procession briefly paused a handful of times so students could receive advice and well-wishes from staff, alumni and community members.
Bittersweet victory lap
At the corner of High and Baynton, Angela Hanna, the school's senior guidance counselor, talked about the importance of gratitude.
At Baynton and Haines, Rev. Andrew Foster, who leads nearby Janes Memorial United Methodist Church, told students that the community won't be the same without GHS.
At Haines and Germantown, Vera Primus, president of GHS' alumni association, spoke of history.
"Don't ever forget from where you came," said Primus. "Remember all who have walked these halls, all that have been here that have done the same thing that you have done."
Primus' message struck a chord with Aliyah Muhammad. As students returned to the school, she said the ceremony helped strengthen her already strong bond with GHS.
"It's sad, but it brings everybody together so we get to express our feelings to community members that we never got to meet that have history with Germantown just like we have history with Germantown," said Muhammad.
Former principal returns
The event concluded in the courtyard, where students joined cheering alumni and staff for a series of final remarks from current and past leaders of GHS.
The list included Margaret Mullen-Bavwidinsi, who retired from the Philadelphia School District in early April after four years at GHS.
The seniors standing before her were freshman when she arrived.
"I expect great things from you, the best. You are awesome," said Mullen-Bavwidinsi. "Continue to fight, continue to do well and remember always Germantown High School, the school that turned everything around for you and your life.
"Please remember that you are the last class of seniors to graduate from Germantown High School."
Graduation is Wednesday.
The final day of classes for all public school students is Friday.
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