‘Edge the world forward,’ GHS grads told

The Enterprise — Elizabeth Floyd Mair 
Self-possessed: Muzen Magzoub, who graduated with honors and will go on to Rochester Institute, walks across the SEFCU Arena stage on June 23, diploma in hand. 

GUILDERLAND — Four-hundred-and-twenty graduates walked across the stage at the University at Albany’s athletic arena on June 23 to accept their diplomas from Guilderland High School, after several speakers spoke movingly of the importance not of success, but of resilience and compassion.

And during the ceremony, although rain had fallen for much of the day, the skies cleared in time for families and friends to head outside and take photos with their new graduates.

Principal Thomas Lutsic, who headed the school for seven years and will retire at month’s end, spoke frankly about the unexpected challenges life threw at him, starting in childhood.

He told The Enterprise that he doesn’t usually talk much about his past and has never really addressed a class with that level of frankness, but thought he would this time, since he is graduating with the class.

He said that, ironically, he never attended his own commencement ceremony, because he never graduated from from high school.

Lutsic had had dreams and plans, but the course of his life did not follow them.

“I didn’t plan on my grandmother and grandfather raising me, but my parents left when I was 8. I didn’t plan on my grandfather dying when I was 12. I didn’t plan on moving in with an aunt and uncle, and I didn’t plan on ending up in foster care. But life happens,” he told the class.

He didn’t start college until he was 32, he said, adding, “But it’s never too late to change direction.”

Every member of the class has had things happen that didn’t line up with their plans, he said.

“Some of you have had more challenges than I could ever imagine. And yet you made it here today. I have a deep respect for your accomplishment,” Lutsic said.

Life will continue to bring challenges that take the graduates off course, he said, but “it’s just part of living.” The important thing is to be able to reflect and learn.

And sometimes, Lutsic said, “You have to be open to changing your course.”

Silma Subah, who is headed to the State University of New York at Binghamton and gave the graduate address, also spoke of the need for flexibility and self-acceptance, advising her classmates to “take something from every failure you have faced, or might face.” She continued, “Don’t let them define you. Remember each of the failures. Keep them close.”

Failures can serve as fuel, she said, for becoming a better person.

In his address, English teacher Gary Gnirrep, who has taught at Guilderland High School for 28 years, told the Class of 2018 that he had wanted to frame his talk around the alphabet, with one piece of advice for each letter, but that time constraints meant he could only make it to “C.”

“A,” he said, is for awareness. Young adulthood is a time when people are encouraged to think about the future and are asked, repeatedly, what they are going to do, “as if the present is merely a waiting room to endure until you get where you’re really supposed to be.”

But, Gnirrep said, “The present, this moment, is all you really have. It is the only place you truly occupy.” Too much emphasis on either past or present can make it difficult to appreciate the present moment.

These moments, he said, make up minutes that make up days and weeks and years, “and eventually a lifetime.”

“Be kind,” he said, for the alphabet’s second letter. Kindness is strength, he said.

He urged the students to find a cause. “Just one will do, that sparks your passion.

“Contribute to the conversation. Edge the world forward,” he said, “with your hashtags, your petitions, your blogs, and your tweets.”

The graduates should treat world issues as if they are happening in their own communities, and community issues “as if the world depended on it.”

Gnirrep told the Class of 2018: “You can’t shake someone’s hand with a wall between you. Don’t live behind a wall. Take an interest in others not like yourself. Be open to their food, and their hearts, and their stories. Be strong in your kindness toward humankind.”

Finally, he said, “C” is for challenges. Welcome challenges, he told the graduates.

“When your most difficult moments come calling, invite them into your life and get to know them. They are here to teach you.”

Guilderland’s Class of 2018 may already be on its way to developing the strength of kindness.

Forty-two students — exactly 10 percent — received a Community Service Award demonstrating that they have completed, during their time at Guilderland High School, at least 200 hours of community service.