BKW salutatorian hopes to help others through teaching

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Cailyn Toomey speaks about the opportunities provided to her and others at Berne-Knox-Westerlo during her salutatorian speech at BKW's Class of 2018 commencement.

BERNE — Cailyn Toomey, the Berne-Knox-Westerlo Class of 2018 salutatorian, has gotten a lot out of her time at BKW. Now, she’s planning a future where she can give back to others.

Toomey grew up watching her mother serve those in need as a special-education teacher; her mother is currently teaching second grade at Philip Schuyler Achievement Academy in the Albany City School District. Like her mother, Toomey wants to teach in an urban, high-needs district, a goal not all future teachers aspire to.

“Some of my teachers at my mom’s school are like, ‘Oh no, you don’t know what you’re getting into,” she said.

For the past few years, when Toomey is off from school during the week of Regents exams, she visits her mother in her classroom, and observes her mother teaching, reading to, and interacting with her students.

“She makes sure that everyone feels like they’re smart and they’re capable of what they’re doing in the classroom … ,” Toomey said. “She makes the kids feel excited about learning, which I really admire.”

Before becoming a teacher, she hopes to join the Peace Corps, and teach in a Spanish-speaking country, as she will be minoring in Spanish at the State University of New York at Oneonta, where she will major in elementary education. Toomey said she may teach English as a second language to children new to the United States.

She became interested in traveling abroad after she attended a New York State United Teachers event on human rights, and was able to meet people from different human-rights groups and learn about the lack of access to education and teachers in certain countries.

In preparing her salutatory address, Toomey said she would talk about how beneficial it was to attend a small school where she had many opportunities.

“I was in a lot of clubs,” she said.

Toomey is the president of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, or GSA, which she helped found; the National Honor Society; the student senate; and the Student Service Society, which provides community services in the area. One example is the Not Eating Alone Tonight, or NEAT, dinners, which are served to senior citizens once a month. She also is a the vice president of Peer Mediation and is in the quiz-bowl style club Masterminds.

“I brought the idea to Mr. Lemire over the summer … ,” she said of James Lemire, a BKW social studies teacher. “He loved the idea and got it started,” she said, of GSA.

Toomey also began cheerleading in her junior year at BKW.

“I’ve never really done any sport before,” she said. “So it was really cool to be part of team.”

Toomey has acted in plays for years, starting at the Good Cause Club in Rensselaerville when she was about 9. A friend introduced her to the group and she fell in love with theater.

“I really love the people who do theater,” she said. “I feel like it’s a really accepting community.”

Some of her favorite memories at BKW are from being in the school musical, where she has gotten close with many of her classmates. Her last role at Berne-Knox-Westerlo was as Fiona in the play “Shrek the Musical.”

“I think Fiona was my favorite role,” she said, describing the character as bubbly and fun; she also was able to tap dance in the show.

She has attended BKW since kindergarten and has lived in Berne all her life.

“I love that, since I’ve gone to the same school all my life, I know everybody and I feel really comfortable there,” she said. “Everyone’s kind of friends. Even if you’re not in the same friend group, everyone knows each other, and likes each other, and gets along.”

She is looking forward to studying at SUNY Oneonta, which is about an hour’s drive from Berne and offers a high-ranking teaching program.

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” she said of graduating. “But I’m ready to leave and see new things, and experience new things.”