‘A bittersweet moment’ as the Class of 2021 accelerates into the future

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Graduating Voorheesville senior Elise Kelly holds her mortarboard over her heart during the Pledge of Allegiance.

NEW SCOTLAND —  The 74 smiling and maskless members of the Clayton A. Bouton Class of 2021 were led into their outdoor graduation ceremony by the thunder of drums and the skirl of bagpipes of the Capital Region Celtic Pipe Band. 

At the beginning of the school year, senior class officers crafted a list — their graduation must-haves — for their advisors David Lawrence and Kristen Heyde, and, on June 25, the entire list was able to be checked off, said Madilyn Delisle as she opened the ceremony. 

Delisle said March 13, 2020, is a day that will forever remain etched in the minds of the Class of 2021. On that day, students were “told we were not returning to school after spring break because of COVID,” she said. 

She then offered advice to Clayton A. Bouton’s remaining students: “The timer starts to count down the moment you walk through that door.”

And there are only 720 days on that timer, Delisle said. 

“So I’m here telling you to get out there and live,” she said. “Because our time was cut short, and now that time has come to an end.”


“Ambitious dreams”

Brendan Mahoney, Voorheesville’s salutatorian, began with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty … I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Mahoney then began his own impressive speech.

“Wherever we all end up next year it will not be easy. Whether it’s countless hours of studying at college or intense physical training for the military or starting from the bottom and working your way up in the workforce,” Mahoney said. “It will not be easy, but that should not discourage you. We are an incredible group of people, and we have already accomplished so much in such a short amount of time.”

After asking his classmates to take stock of their time at Voorheesville, Mahoney then asked that they “turn your attention to the future, thinking about how much you’ve changed in the last four years.” 

“Imagine what changes the next four hold,” he said. “These next four years are where we will truly become adults — off on our own in the world. What does your future hold?”

He then quoted billionaire Richard Branson, who said, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they are too small.”

Mahoney said, “We all have ambitious dreams, but don’t let yourself or anyone doubt you … I know that we are an incredible group of people, which is why I am confident, anyone here can accomplish their dreams — if they only try.”


“A new version of normalcy”

Maeve Connolly, presenting the senior class gift of banners, brought the gravity of the past 15 months into perspective. 

“On this day of celebration, we are reminded of the tragedies we have experienced over the last 15 months,” she said. “This past year abruptly and prematurely introduced high school students to the scary adult world that is political partisanship, horrible brutalities, and pandemics.”

“Luckily we’ve also been able to witness communities coming together and protecting each other, global protests for human rights, historic elections, and scientific innovations that are allowing us to return to a new version of normalcy in our own community,” Connolly said. “We have seen interconnectedness and togetherness, through meaningful activities like community food drives, last year’s teachers’ parade, the seniors’ trunk-or-treat event, and the second senior parade in Voorheesville history.”


“Whirlwind of emotions”

Valedictorian Francesca Coppola called the day a “bittersweet moment.”

She said the past year-and-a-half had been a “whirlwind of emotions,” but what had happened should not be seen “as all negative.”

“For example, I think this period has taught us perhaps the most important thing, and that is that time moves incredibly fast,” Coppola said.

Quarantine made the past year-and-a-half feel like a few months, at most, she said.

“Life will never slow, but will likely only continue to feel like it’s accelerating, as the months, the years, and decades go by … The only thing that will matter is that we live that time in a way that we can look back on with joy,” Coppola said.


Beloved teachers guide us “when we feel lost”

Heather Garvey, a business teacher at Clayton A. Bouton, gave the keynote address about two influential people in her life who made her into the person she is today: Mrs. Buonfiglio, her third-grade teacher, and Mr. Fyhr, her 11th-grade English teacher.

“As an 8-year-old, I knew Mrs. Buonfiglio was a class act. And exactly who I wanted to grow up to be. She was the epitome of style and grace,” she said. “She was very kind, even to the boys who were jerks. She was nice, but she was no one’s doormat.”

Garvey told the crowd how she had her tonsils removed in third grade, in 1978, and how Mrs. Buonfiglio visited her in the hospital.  

“Her visit meant everything to me because she didn’t have to do that,” Garvey said.

“Mrs. B. came to my wedding and gave me the most beautiful champagne flutes; they are in my hutch in my dining room,” Garvey said. “And they have never been used, because I cannot bear the thought of one of them breaking.” 

“I don’t know that she knew how much of a role model she was for me,” she said, “not as a teacher, but as a human being.”

Then, Garvey said, there was Mr. Fyhr.

“I kid you not, his last name was Fyhr,” she said, pronouncing the name as “fear.”

Garvey said she never raised her hand in his class, too scared that her teacher and classmates would think her unintelligent. 

“Back then, it mattered to me what others thought of me,” she said. “I just sat there sweating, praying he wouldn’t call on me.”

A couple of months into the school year, Garvey said that Mr. Fyhr asked her to stay after class. 

“Stop caring about what your classmates think of you,” her teacher said to her, Garvey recalled. “It is better to be wrong than to be silenced by people who don’t matter.”

“I remember wanting to cry, but I didn’t. I remember being angry at first, but then realizing he was right,” she said. Mr. Fhyr set in motion the process that would allow her to become her true self. 

“His job was to prepare me for my English Regents, but he did so much more. Not only did he help me find my voice,” she said. “He gave me permission to use it, and it may sound strange but that was exactly what I needed. I feel like he was the first person who ever really saw me. Mr. Fhyr changed my life.”

The reason everyone has a favorite teacher isn’t because of the curriculum they teach, Garvey said. “We love them because they make us feel good about ourselves and help guide us when we feel lost.”

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