Bill Cowher surprises Carlynton grads with virtual commencement speech

Friday, June 5, 2020 | 7:47 PM

Graduating from high school during a pandemic has eliminated many of the traditional trappings associated with the annual ceremony, but there is a bright side.

When schools turn graduation into a virtual occasion, they are sometimes able to secure commencement speakers who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend in person.

Such was the case at Carlynton on Friday night.

The school’s seniors were honored with a video ceremony broadcast via the Trib Live High School Sports Network, and the surprise featured speaker was Carlynton’s most famous alumnus, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, class of 1975.

He told graduates about one of the first conversations he had with his wife after he was hired by the Steelers in 1992.

“I said, ‘Wow, you know, if I don’t screw this up, in three years, I can go back to my 20th high school class reunion as the head coach of my hometown team,” Cowher said from his New York home. “That was my first goal. Don’t get fired in your first three years.”

Known as fiery motivator during his 15 years as Steelers coach, Cowher was understated but inspirational in his message to his alma mater’s seniors.

“Be flexible in your thinking. Don’t be set in your ways. If you’re passionate about it, chase it. But also be willing to change midstream,” Cowher said. “Boy, you’re going out into an uncertain world. Covid-19 has made a lot of things a little murky, right? But you know what? You are who you are and you came from where you came from.

“When I think about my life, I do go back to my days in Crafton Heights, Crafton, going to Carlynton High School, my friends, my teachers who made a tremendous impact on me, my experiences that I grew from and learned from.”

The ceremony included a photo tribute to each member of the graduating class and taped messages of congratulations from family members.

Jonathan Bombulie is the TribLive assistant sports editor. A Greensburg native, he was a hockey reporter for two decades, covering the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for 17 seasons before joining the Trib in 2015 and covering the Penguins for four seasons, including Stanley Cup championships in 2016-17. He can be reached at


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