Super to GHS grads: Stand up for what's right
Before the roar that reached the rafters, before the caps of red and white were tossed with abandon and fell to the floor, before the beach balls surfed the crowd — there was Pomp and Circumstance, there were parents taking pictures, there were carefully chosen words spoken from the heart.
Tiny moments — each as individual as the 415 graduates — unfolded in the large arena.
Highest Honors student David Corey from his place on stage held his diploma up next to his face so his parents, seated on the bleachers, could see it. They had — literally — climbed many mountains together, and they glowed with pride as their son reached this summit: He’ll be going to the state’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse.
When the word was given for the graduates to turn their tassels, Dakota Shaw moved hers with grace and alacrity. She had spelled out her destination on her mortarboard: The College of Saint Rose. There, she’ll be studying physical therapy.
This was Guilderland High School’s graduation, held on June 28 at the University at Albany’s athletic arena.
At 3:30 p.m., a snake of seniors — the women in white, the men in red — wound in front of a pillared building under bright sun. A woman’s voice called out their names, in alphabetical order, as the Class of 2014 lined up as one for the last time.
As cameras flashed, the seniors strode into the arena to the sounds of the Edward Elgar classic, played by the high school’s jazz ensemble. Some who watched quietly dabbed their eyes while others let out whoops, answered by waves from those in the procession.
The seniors found their way to the rows and rows of folding chairs set up on the arena floor. They stood as Michelle Falcone, co-president of the class and a highest honors graduate who plans to study biology and Spanish at Geneseo, led the Pledge of Allegiance.
They stayed on their feet as Joseph Sipzner conducted the concert choir seniors in singing the national anthem. Sipzner, who conducted with confidence, will be going to Ohio State University to study music education.
In a graduation edition of The Journal, the high school’s student newspaper (which supplied much of the information on graduate plans in this article), Sipzner, a high honors graduate and co-vice president of his class, had written about playing Carnegie Hall with the Empire State Youth Orchestra, after practicing every Thursday night for three hours in the school gym.
Once on Carnegie’s stage, he wrote, “Besides the note, you could hear your heartbeat.”
After the concert, he said, “I was so proud, I almost cried. I nailed everything I needed to and didn’t let the orchestra down, which I think is why I was so proud.”
“Use your voice”
Guilderland’s superintendent, Marie Wiles, started the speeches with a rousing welcome. She said she was proud of each and every graduate and also proud of the school administrators, faculty and staff, as well as the board of education, parents, grandparents, and friends who had supported the graduates.
Her speech centered on the worth of working for social justice. She noted that during the graduates’ senior year, the world lost two giants of social justice — Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou.
Each, Wiles said, was a powerful voice for people who are oppressed or marginalized. “Their passing left a void,” she said, urging the graduates, each in their own way, to fill that void.
“Stand up for what is good and right in the world,” said Wiles.
She gave a brief biography of both giants, describing Mandela as a “champion of freedom.” Wiles noted that Mandela spent 27 years in prison before negotiating the end to apartheid in South Africa, serving as its president from 1994 to 1999.
She called Mandela “the most effective leader for the fight of human rights around the world — ever.”
She also quoted the end of the famous three-hour speech Mandela gave when he was tried in 1964 with other African National Congress leaders: “I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Wiles called Angelou a Renaissance woman, naming her talents that ranged from dancing to being a prolific writer. She called Angelou “one of the most renowned and influential voices of our time.”
Angelou triumphed over the brutality of racial discrimination, said Wiles, and stressed freedom, equality, human dignity, and kindness.
“I’m not suggesting you go to prison or be a Renaissance man or woman,” said Wiles, but, she urged the graduates, “Use your voice for good.”
She also urged kindness no matter what people look like, sound like, or believe.
“These are exciting times,” said Wiles, “filled with opportunities or the unknown.” She recommended that the graduates pursue their varied paths “with an eye toward making the world a better place by the way you treat people.”
Wiles then read from Somewhere Today: A Book of Peace — written by Shelley Moore Thomas with photographs by Eric Futran — which repeats the title phrase over and over, with such observations as, “Somewhere today someone is caring for a child so she won’t get sick,” or, “Somewhere today someone is planting a tree where one was cut down,” or, finally, “Somewhere today someone is reading a book about and thinking about making the world a better place. Maybe it is you.”
Once again, Wiles exhorted the graduates, “Use your voice to make the world or even a tiny part of it a better place.”
She concluded with a thought from Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will not forget how you made them feel.”
“Gently down the stream”
Guilderland does not name a salutatorian or valedictorian. During the commencement ceremony, the students with many hours of community service, the honors students, and the high honor students stand for recognition while the highest honors students sit on the stage. Speakers are chosen based on speeches submitted beforehand.
Courtland “Cody” Ingraham recalled last week how he submitted his speech and then read it during an audition. He was thrilled when the principal called him into his office to say he was selected to give the welcoming address.
On graduation day, Ingraham’s chest was covered with many medals and pins. “I wanted to wear things representative of my school career,” he said. Ingraham described his selections to The Enterprise: Some were for outstanding work on stage — he was in several school plays — or for his four years in both the orchestra and choir.
He wore a United States flag because, he said, he is patriotic, and he wore a German flag to represent that heritage and also because he was president of the German Club for four years.
He wore a pin for participating in mock trial, and another for a community service group, HOBY, which he was part of for four years. He wore a medal for his participation in the Future Cities competition, and a pin from his great uncle, Jack McEneny, a retired state assemblyman. “I aspire to go into public service myself,” said Ingraham.
He began and ended his speech in a way that was familiar to his classmates, in his role as an anchor for the daily GHS Reporter stories. “With every headline I’ve read, I’ve seen all their accomplishments,” he said last week.
He told his classmates, “Each one of us has changed profoundly.” He noted, “Change can be good or bad. It all depends on how you perceive it....We are the generation of change…”
He also said, “We are the dreamers and the believers, the idealists and the realists that will come together to change the world dream by dream, step by step, person by person...Our actions will produce our legacies…Rome wasn’t built in a day; neither was Guilderland High School.”
Ingraham, who plans to study history at Siena College, also told his classmates that they are resilient and adaptive to change and “will rise and conquer above all odds.”
A highest honors graduate also recognized for his community service, Ingraham took a quick romp through some of the class’s adventures, from kindergarten, through middle school, and high school. “Here today, we are united,” he said, for the final time.
Laughter rippled across the sea of graduates seated before him as Ingraham referenced the Assistant Principal Lisa Patierne, and said, “In the great words of Mrs. Patierne, ‘Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream.’”
Ingraham explained this week that the reference, which had such resonance for his classmates, was to an assembly near the start of their senior year. “Mrs. Patierne told us, as a metaphor of life, we have to row our boats gently down our own stream. At the time, we were a little aghast. It seemed childish. But then she had us all sing the song and we saw it had a really good message.
“That’s why I chose it for my speech. It was unique to our class and it was one thing that we all experienced together. I wanted something both reflective and enjoyable,” said Ingraham. “That was something we could all connect to.”
Finally, from the podium, Ingraham urged, his classmates, “Show the world what you’re made of…Do great things…Give me great headlines to report on one day….Over and out.”
“Be yourself” was the advice Morgan Olson gave her classmates in the graduate address.
In the important decisions that lie ahead regarding career paths and lifestyles, Olson said, “We are each capable of pursuing a path entirely our own.”
Olson, who will attend Union College, is a highest honors graduate, recognized for her community service. She stressed the importance of trusting oneself. “There’s more to life than fitting in with everyone,” she said.
From behind the lectern, Olson confided, “I’m familiar with being different.” She said that the majority of her friends are over the age of 90. Olson said those friends like bingo and enjoy any chance to socialize as long as they’re not missing Wheel of Fortune.
Olson, who volunteers at a nursing home, said one of her closest friends is a 95-year-old man, making her feel distanced from her teenage peers.
“I know I’m not the only one who has ever felt different,” said Olson.
When it comes to choosing a direction in life, she urged, if your sole reason for being skeptical is not fitting in with everyone, then that shouldn’t dissuade you.
“A true connection could last a lifetime,” she said.
Olson told her classmates, “We are all prepared to take the next step….The pages are blank for each and every one of us…It’s time to go do what we are meant to do…It doesn’t matter if it’s different…The only thing that matters is it’s right for you.”
“Hold on to the child within you”
Graduation is a culmination of years of hard work, Thomas Lutsic, the high school principal, told the seniors, calling it “a huge step into adulthood.”
Lutsic said there would be no quiz as he shared his thoughts on a favorite book, Antoine de Saint Exupery’s The Little Prince. Saint Exupery, a French aviator, wrote the book in the midst of World War II, telling the tale of a pilot stranded with a broken plane in the desert. The pilot befriends a pure and little prince who has traveled far from his very own small planet.
The prince is presented as real, although many critics have read him as a figment of the pilot’s imagination; either way, he serves as a guide against the hypocrisy of adulthood.
“There is no truer children’s book,” Lutsic told the graduates.
He quoted from the book’s dedication: “All grown-ups were once children — although few of them remember it.”
Growing up often causes us to lose something, Lutsic told the graduates.
“The world rubbing against us makes us tough,” the principal said. “Try to hold onto that portion of child that is within you.”
Lutsic described an experience he had recently as he spotted an eagle not 25 feet from his deck. He called the sighting “amazing,” and said it made his heart race. He called his wife more and more loudly to share in the experience.
“Come see the bird,” intoned Lutsic. And then, more loudly, “Come see the bird.” And finally, shouting, “Come see the bird.”
Lutsic said, in that moment, he felt the wonder of a child. “I had that feeling of experiencing something for the first time,” he said.
He concluded of discovering that sort of childlike wonder, “To find it, all we need to do is open our eyes.”
“Living the dream”
Abigail Kedik, class co-president and a high honors graduate recognized for her community service who will be attending Fordham University, introduced the keynote speakers, a popular husband-and-wife team. Alonna Rudolph, who teaches social studies, and Mark Rudolph, who teaches math, were chosen by the class to deliver the commencement address.
Of Mrs. Rudolph, Kedik said she would miss a teacher who spent hours of time not just to make better historians but to make better people.
Of Mr. Rudolph, she said, “You can’t help but laugh at his corny jokes and hope one day he’ll get better.” This quip itself elicited laughter, including from the Rudolphs who sat next to each other on stage in their black caps and gowns with matching hoods, awaiting their turn at the lectern.
Kedik concluded that both of the Rudolphs help students beyond academia, sharing “countless pieces of priceless wisdom.”
The Rudolphs shared the lectern, delivering a quick-paced and lively speech laced with wit and wisdom. One would often finish the other’s sentence.
They said, on learning of the honor, they at first “stalled” in writing their speech.
It wasn’t until they were on a family camping trip, reflecting on their lives as they sat before the campfire, that the inspiration came to them.
Mrs. Rudolph said she realized, “I am happy.” The reason for that, she said, is they had built a life they love.
Mrs. Rudolph began, “Part of the reason we’re happy —
“Mrs. Rudolph found her Prince Charming,” her husband completed the sentence to gales of laughter.
Mr. Rudolph said that he didn’t recall what his own commencement speaker had said and he wanted to find words of wisdom that would resonate with the graduates for at least 20 years.
He noted that, while some might be eager to leave Guilderland, the Rudolphs live within the district, teach at the high school, and have their children in Guilderland schools.
“We are living the dream,” he said.
Mrs. Rudolph listed historical figures from Confucius to Thomas Edison who espoused “following your passion” to lead a good life.
Mr. Rudolph noted that happiness doesn’t have to lie in having big houses or expensive cars.
He noted his own love of math and said that his goal at Guilderland is not simply to teach math but “to help you discover and reveal your dreams.”
Mrs. Rudolph noted that Amelia Earhart had said fun was an essential part of work. Earhart, of course, was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic and died in 1937 trying to be the first woman to fly around the world.
“We love being part of the community,” Mr. Rudolph said, urging the graduates to find something that each could value and pursue.
Mrs. Rudolph returned to Earhart, calling her a true dreamer. Earhart knew she was taking risks to reach her dreams and left these words for her husband in case she died: “Please know that I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others.”
The Rudolphs spoke about a variety of dreams — solving math puzzles, visiting historical sites, or their daughter’s dream of living at Disney — and urged, “Let them consume you.”
Mrs. Rudolph noted that dreams adapt, and Mr. Rudolph said, “My dream now is to be the best husband and father I can.”
He urged the graduates, “Follow that spark, chase it, let it guide you.”
He also said that, although he urges his math students to show their confidence by working out problems in pen, his advice for life is: “Use pencil because you’re going to make mistakes and start over.”
He also advised living life like an exclamation rather than an explanation.
Together, the Rudolphs, side by side, wished the graduates good luck as they chased their dreams.