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James Buchanan graduates remember classmate

June 05, 2004|By WANDA T. WILLIAMS

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - It was a night of celebration and remembrance for graduating seniors at James Buchanan High School Friday.

In a sea of green and white robes, 195 graduates marched into the school's gymnasium to an overflowing audience of more than 1,200 family members and friends.

While the evening marked the beginning of a new chapter in their lives, many students carried long-stem white roses for a former classmate they didn't want to forget - Zachary Gary Harbel.

"There were a lot of students who were very close to him," class vice-president Kati Bishop said.

Harbel, who was 15 at the time, was killed in 2001 when the car he was riding in was rear-ended by a flatbed truck on U.S. 11 in Chambersburg, Pa., according to police.

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Two years following the accident, graduation brought feelings of joy and sadness for senior Joshua Seeders. He was in the car with Harbel and survived the accident along with Justin Leedy, who graduated in 2002, he said.

"We wanted to show that we haven't forgotten him. He made a big impression on our lives and his legacy lives on," Seeders said.

Marching to the lyrics of the song "I'll Be Missing You," Seeders and other graduates paid a special tribute to Harbel. Some holding back tears, graduates placed their long-stem roses on a table containing a photograph of Zachary surrounded by his diploma, a cap and gown and a basketball. Harbel's name also was listed on the program and the seat where he would have sat was left vacant.

"He was a great kid, athlete and scholar. He had such a bright future," Principal Robert B. Beaumont said.

In addition to Harbel's tribute, the class was honored for its successes. Beaumont praised the graduates for outstanding academic, athletic and leadership accomplishments, describing the class as "determined and resilient."

The class received more than $100,000 in scholarships, Beaumont told the audience.

Class valedictorian Jesse Duffer and salutatorian Heather Wiand also gave speeches sprinkled with youthful humor and mature parting words of advice.

Superintendent Thomas A. Stapleford said this year's graduating class will be remembered for its closeness.

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