Purdue Polytechnic High Schools’ students celebrate graduation

INDIANAPOLIS — Gary Bertoline did not have the best high school experience.

It was with that sense of irony that Bertoline stood in front of Purdue Polytechnic High School Schweitzer Center at Englewood on Indianapolis’ east side and delivered the keynote address to 113 students who were set to graduate from PPHS and embark on the next chapters of their lives.

You can watch a video recap and view a photo gallery of PPHS graduation day online.

Bertoline, Purdue University’s senior vice president for Purdue Online and Learning Innovation, previously served as dean of Purdue Polytechnic Institute and developed the concept of a Purdue-sponsored STEM high school that would help give students a voice in their education. He was also present on the day PPHS opened in Indianapolis at a temporary location on July 31, 2017.

Bertoline grew up a shy, introverted person who got through high school with a B- average. “My parents had to plead with me to just try going to college. My high school experience crushed my spirit and self-confidence,” he said.

photo gallery with images taken throughout the ceremony is available. (Purdue University photos/ Rebecca McElhoe and John Underwood) View Gallery

But in the midst of those challenges, a catalyst for personal growth arrived with the birth of Bertoline’s third child, who has Down syndrome. Bertoline said that moment is when he realized that he and his family needed to embrace life to its fullest, learn from all experiences and be compassionate. 

“Graduates, today I ask you to start your postgraduation life by expressing gratitude to your family and friends,” Bertoline said. “Life is good, especially today.”

Bertoline’s message on finding the good in all things and being passionate in one’s studies follows the mission of PPHS, which was established to build new K-12 pathways that lead to Purdue, especially for Hoosier students who are underserved by traditional high schools and underrepresented in higher education.

PPHS immerses students and their families in an innovative learning community. PPHS offers tuition-free, authentic, STEM-focused experiences that prepare high school students for a successful future. These experiences include internships, industry projects, dual-credit courses, and technical certifications. PPHS also offers its students a unique path to college; graduates who achieve Purdue’s admission requirements are ensured admission to many of the university’s programs.

Watch Building a Pipeline: PPHS Origins Storyto learn how and why Purdue Polytechnic High Schools is revolutionizing education and changing students’ lives.

Thirty-four of the graduates have accepted their offer to attend Purdue in West Lafayette in the fall. Overall, 65% of the graduates will pursue higher education, and 12% will attend trade schools or military service.

While it was the second commencement for PPHS, the graduation ceremony included the first four-year graduating class from PPHS North, located in Indianapolis’ Broad Ripple neighborhood, and the first graduates from PPHS South Bend.

Victor Chukwuocha from PPHS Schweitzer Center at Englewood was one of three student responders. Chukwuocha will attend Purdue and major in integrated business and engineering.

“Through all our trials and tribulations, we have persevered. We built a community where we have used each other’s perspectives to grow in our lives,” Chukwuocha said. “Although we are graduating today, this community will continue to help and nurture our growth for the rest of our lives.”

PPHS graduates celebrate following the ceremony. (Purdue University photo/Rebecca McElhoe)

Nate Laneman from PPHS South Bend is another member of the Class of 2022 who served as a student responder. Laneman will be pursuing a mechanical engineering degree from Purdue.

“I’m sure all of us have gone through hard things, and I’m sure we’ll go through more as we get older. But for today put all that aside and be happy, celebrate, laugh, smile, just enjoy yourselves,” Laneman said. “No matter what you’re going to do now that you’re grown up, make one of those things to smile.”

More testimonials from students about how PPHS changed their lives and opened the doors to college are on a special PPHS webpage.

The 34 graduates will participate in Purdue’s Early Start program from July 11-Aug. 12. Another 175 PPHS rising sophomores, juniors and seniors will participate in Summer Start (July 11-Aug. 12) and Summer College for High School Students (July 10-Aug. 5).