Be as resilient and flexible as vines, Guilderland graduates told  

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Joy: Christine Tice, facing the camera, clutches her daughter, Mya Tice, in a hug following Guilderland’s graduation ceremony June 29. Mya Tice will study at The Sage Colleges. 

GUILDERLAND —  A highlight of Guilderland’s graduation ceremony was when technology teacher Christopher Gockley sang a cappella a song from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” in a speech.

“It’s you I like. It’s not the things you wear, not the way you do your hair, but it’s you I like. The way you are right now, the way down deep inside you, not the things that hide you. It’s not your toys —” 

He veered off Mr. Rogers’  script and riffed, “It’s not your cars, your gadgets, your phones” before returning to the lyric: “That’s just stuff beside you.” 

The students erupted in applause, seated on the floor of UAlbany’s athletic arena arena June 29.

Like many of the graduates’ parents and grandparents, Gockley loved to watch the television show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a child. 

Mr. Rogers “demonstrated love,” Gockley said. Mr. Rogers would speak personally to his audience, assuring his child viewers that there was no one else like them in the whole world; they were unique because of what was inside. 

There’s nothing wrong with nice things, Gockley said. But material possessions shouldn’t become the sole focus of life; he hoped the graduates would be content with or without them, “because we’re really a lot more than stuff.” 

In 1994, he said, Mr. Rogers was asked who had made an impact on his life, and had replied he was grateful to the people who have allowed him to have some silence. 

“Real revelation comes through silence,” Rogers had said.  


The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Purpose: New Guilderland graduate Sean Weaver, an honors student who plans to attend Utica College, strides across the stage, diploma in hand. 

As commencement speaker, Gockley was chosen by the graduating class. He started out his speech with a catch in his voice. “Standing before you, I am amazed at the wonderful surprises that life can bring,” he said.

He looked at himself in the mirror the other day, he said, and saw a “haggard and dusty man, not someone I would expect to give a graduation speech,” but nevertheless he was “all decked out” and honored to speak from his heart to theirs. 

It was his hope, he said, that they would use their talents and wisdom “with great compassion, so that your impact is great.” 

Gockley advised them to be responsible and real. 

He told them to “walk circumspectly” and to consider all the possible consequences of their actions, and avoid decisions that lead to “unnecessary suffering and regret.” He suggested he was speaking from experience; as a young man, he had spent time “in trouble,” he said. 

He reminded them that they will need to live with the decisions they make and that they should pay close attention to what they do. 

“As you approach this world, be as wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove,” he said, quoting the New Testament. 

He quoted a favorite author, the Bahamian evangelist Dr. Myles Munroe, in advising the class not to accept others’ opinions of them, since others “can’t see what great and valuable potential is inside of you.” 

Gockley told the class of 2019 to make time to slow down, move beyond “the busyness and distraction,” and connect with those who love or need them. 

 A few parents shouted their agreement and everyone clapped when Gockely said, “I don’t want this to sound mean, but get your head out of your phone because people need you. People really need you.” 

Students, parents, and the administrators and board of education members on the stage all gave Gockley a standing ovation. 


The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Graduation commencement speaker, GHS technology teacher Christopher Gockley, receives a standing ovation after he spoke to the graduates, telling them to walk circumspectly and avoid decisions that lead to unnecessary suffering and regret.

 In his first graduation speech since starting as principal in 2018, Michael Piscitelli told the graduates about a mistake he made in his first job out of college that cost his company two months of production of its most popular product. He quipped, “But that wasn’t why I went into teaching.” 

He was quickly moved to a different position within the firm, “but the experience was not all bad,” he said. His new supervisor saw his strengths and weaknesses and taught him a lot. Eventually Piscitelli rebuilt his reputation and became a rising star in the company. 

Everyone, Piscitelli said, experiences disappointment and failure. Those are opportunities “to show what you’re made of, show you have grit,” he said. 

In her speech, student speaker Molly Broderick encouraged the graduates to be flexible and resilient. “We may see the challenges that we face in our lives as impossible walls that we cannot get over,” she said. “However, we must acknowledge that when a vine meets a wall, that doesn’t deter the vine to stop growing. The vine defies gravity, climbing the wall to continue its course.”  

This was the first year in recent memory that the ceremony was held in the morning rather than late afternoon. 

The high-school administration decided this year to begin to phase out having the highest-honors students, with grade-point averages of 95 or above, sit on stage, a tradition that started in 1995 when the district stopped recognizing a valedictorian and salutatorian. Highest-honors students had a choice this year of whether to sit on the stage or join their classmates on folding chairs on the floor; many sat on the stage. 

As always, honors students, those with GPAs of 85 and above, were asked at one point to stand and be recognized, as were those with high honors, of 90 and above, the highest-honors students, and all of the students who had completed 200 or more hours of community service. 

The ceremony took two hours, with almost half of that time devoted to handing out diplomas. Many student names were greeted with applause, squeals, and shouts. At one point a number of small beach balls traveled through the air above students’ heads, in a long Guilderland tradition. 

Many people ventured down from the bleachers to the edge of the spectator area to wave and take photos as their graduate walked across and then down from the stage. 

Afterwards, graduates and their families and friends met just outside the arena for hugs and photos. 

Forecasted rain held off until just after the crowd had begun to disperse.


The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Glee: Nour Elhuda Ahmed hugs math teacher Jackie Stein — her “favorite teacher,” Ahmed said — after Guilderland’s graduation ceremony June 29. Ahmed will attend the College of Saint Rose. 


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