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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, July 10, 2008

Breaking out of the egg

By Tyler Schuling

BERNE — It was in the details — memories of their first days of school, of the years in between, and of their last days together.

It was about moving on and starting anew.  And it was about remaining forever young and not forgetting their roots.

On June 28, Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s Class of 2008 was together one last time for graduation ceremonies at The Egg in Albany.  The class’s speakers — Kristen Storm, Heather McCormick, and Anna Kusler — all took from magical childhood stories — Peter Pan and Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

The class remembers

Kristen Storm, the class’s vice president, welcomed the audience. 

“For once,” she said of her class, “we all look the same.  We all have our maroon gowns, our hats, and our tassels.  But, even though we look the same now, it is our differences that make us who we are.”

Storm said she believes that each of her classmates is valuable and has something worthwhile to give. 

“As we choose our own path — some will continue their education or others will go straight to the work force,” she said.  “Whatever you choose, always remember the people you are sitting with today.”

Storm cited Dr. Seuss’s famous words from Oh, the Places You’ll Go!: “You have brains in your head.  You have shoes on your feet.  You can steer yourself any direction you choose.  You’re on your own.  And you know what you want.  And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”  She added, “Congratulations, Class of 2008.  We did it.” 

McCormick, the class’s salutatorian, quoted James M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan: “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” 

McCormick, who will attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the fall, said, “It strikes me that much of life revolves around instances and circumstances.  The things we do and experience together are not only the memories we share but the things that shape our lives.  To exemplify this, I need only say one sentence: Ba-bam!  It’s Katrina time!”

Her classmates laughed. 

McCormick said the quote was found in the hallways and classrooms for the past two years and started as a catch phrase for when her classmate, Katrina Yakel, walked into a room.  Now, she said, it is “an actual time” that is commonly celebrated in classes with the yelling out of the phrase by her classmates. 

McCormick said it will be hard to forget the days of sitting in Mr. Robert Bentley’s class and being asked, “Do you know what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it?”  His infamous quotes, she said, will never be forgotten. 

Nor, she said, will the names Mr. Jim Lemire created for the seniors — by switching the first letter of their last names with the first letters of their first names — during the class’s last year. 

“These names started as just something fun in class one day, but a few of the names have permanently stuck and those people will never be called by their real names by anyone in our class again,” McCormick said.

Another life-altering memory, she said, is of Mr. Philip Matthews’s English class.  “The memory of this class will be passed down from student to student for many, many years,” she said.  “Through Mr. Matthews’s mess-up of words and our manipulation of things he said, we have been named ‘his favorite class for all time.’”

McCormick said the things that shaped the class’s lives the most are the people they are close to and love the most. 

“You have all helped make each one of us who we are today,” she said.  McCormick commended the class’s advisors — Thomas Galvin and Annette Landry — for their patience and guidance throughout the last four years, all the teachers at BKW, her parents for always pushing her to do her best and loving her no matter the circumstances, and her best friend for changing her life. 

Kusler, the class’s valedictorian, also thanked Galvin and Landry — Galvin “for having big muscles” and Landry “for always having the nicest hair and the most patience.”  She also thanked Coriellen Travis, the choral director, all of her friends and family, especially her parents because, she said, she wouldn’t be here today without them.  She also thanked her classmate, Tyler Merrill, for being the inspiration for her speech. 

“I’d been dreaming about writing a hugely inspiring graduation speech since eighth grade,” said Kusler, “and I oftentimes thought about what I would say and how monumental it would sound, and I sat at the computer for the last two weeks staring at a blank screen.”

She said she was trying desperately to find some inspiration and, like every other high-school student who can’t figure it out, decided to procrastinate and watch TV. 

“And I decided to watch a movie — Mr. and Mrs. Smith — and it’s sort of ironic that a movie of such stunningly high caliber was what finally inspired me with an idea.  At one point, when Brad Pitt is racing home to try and kill his wife, he stated a line that sums up exactly how I feel about this whole graduating thing,” Kusler said.

“He says that, ‘I guess that’s what happens in the end.  You start to think about the beginning.’  And that’s so true because so many people concentrate solely on the future.  I can’t help but think of all the wonderful memories I’ve made with these people throughout the years.  At times, I was just as impatient as any other senior ready to hightail it out the building.  But, when I finally think about walking across the stage, I’m a tad wistful,” she said. 

She remembered her first day of kindergarten when she came to BKW with her brown paper-bag lunch and stared intently at the first person to meet her eyes — Allyson Shirley Bates.  Bates, she said, was wearing a black and white dress and she thought it had ribbons on it. 

“She was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen in my entire life,” Kusler said.  “And I think graduating is as much about looking into the future as it is enjoying and remembering the past.”

Kusler, who will attend Cornell University, recalled her classmates arguing so angrily on the kickball field during recess that the teacher’s aids would put them against a wall in timeout.  She also remembered a seventh-grade trip to the Bronx Zoo and some lions teaching the class valuable lessons about the birds and the bees.  She also recalled water balloon fights; Slip-n-Slides; and her classmate, Lance Durham, convincing some girls in New York City that he was attacked by a shark.

“Yes, graduation makes me remember,” said Kusler.  “I guess it’s the Peter Pan in me coming out.  Because, even though I’m so excited about coming out into the world, there’s a small part of me that just doesn’t want to grow up.  I mean, being a kid is one of the most real and key parts of being human, and, if I get one message out there to my fellow classmates, it’s this: Be happy, do what you do and love what you do, but, most importantly, never lose that child within you,” she said.  “These are some of the most carefree days of your lives, so somewhere deep inside you, store those memories of high-school summers, your first kiss, and when nothing in the world could make you happier than a mud pie and a slice of watermelon.” 

Kusler quoted Walt Disney: “Too many people grow up.  That’s the real problem with the world.  Too many people grow up.  They forget.  They don’t remember what it’s like to be 12 years old.” 

She said she agrees.  “I advise you all to never lose it,” Kusler said.  “After all, some of the most important adult qualities are the ones that are most annoying when we’re kids — innate curiosity, trust in others, unconditional love, and to never stop asking why.”

“So I want you to go out there and fulfill your childhood dreams, find your dream job and your perfect pin-up wife or husband, have that big mansion and a nice Ferrari, or pickup truck as many of you will have,” she said.  “Be strong, never stop trying, learn respect, responsibility, and the meaning of hard work.  And don’t lose that sense of childhood wonder.”

She quoted Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, although, she said, Bentley would kill her because Stewart isn’t “a real historical person of importance.” 

She said, “Love what you do and be good at it.  Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age and let the chips fall where they may.” 

“And, I don’t know if any of you remember this, but, at one point in that childhood classic, Peter Pan, Captain Hook looks at Peter and asks, ‘Pan, who and what are you?’  ‘I’m youth, I’m joy,’ answers Peter.  ‘I’m the little bird that has finally broken out of its egg.’” 

“And well, we have finally all just broken out of the egg,” Kusler said, “So good luck, Class of 2008.  Hope to see you at the party at the Johnsons.”

Galvin on the class and the community

Thomas Galvin, who teaches social studies at BKW middle school and coaches varsity girls’ basketball, was chosen by the class to speak. 

He was introduced by Superintendent Steven Schrade. 

“This is a young man — he’s young to me — that has proven himself as a great class advisor, teacher, coach, and a great individual,” said Schrade. 

Galvin started teaching at BKW 13 years ago, he said, “while these guys were being pushed on the bus for their first day of kindergarten, learning their ABCs, having recess, and wetting their pants,”

The crown laughed. 

“Anna Kusler,” Galvin said.

The crown again laughed.

“I also was in the same boat,” he said.

The auditorium again filled with laughter.   

He continued, “Being pushed into my car for the first day as my parents were happy I finally had a job and I could move out of the house, learning my history by the seat of my pants, enjoying my adult recess known as lunch, and yes, even occasionally, wetting my pants.”

Galvin, who has given commencement speeches for other classes, chose this year to emulate one of his favorite comedians, Carrot Top, who brings a bag full of props on stage and uses them in his routine.

The first of his props was a bottle of water.  When the class was in seventh grade, and he was going on one of his tirades, Galvin said, Lance Durham mentioned that he thought Galvin needed anger-management training. 

“In my younger days, maybe I did,” said Galvin, “and in that moment, I grabbed his water bottle off his desk and threw it to the floor and said, ‘Well, that’ll show you anger management, Lance.’” 

Galvin said he felt bad because the bottle broke and leaked all over the place. 

“I took a dollar out of my pants and gave it to him to buy another bottle of water, but,” he said about to present his former student with a peace offering, “I would like to return this to Lance today.”

Next was a small basketball, which, Galvin said, represented the sports achievements of the class — “whether it was Ada Lauderbach in track and cross country, Samantha Moak on the bowling team, the girls’ and boys’ varsity basketball teams combining for over 30 wins this year, including the boys’ stunning league title victory after a shocking upset of Schenectady Christian.”

Galvin then pulled another prop from his Wal-Mart bag. 

“This is Just for Men,” Galvin said, holding up the hair dye.  “This reminds me of the gray hairs that Mrs. Landry and I gained from advising this class.”

Next was “a simple potato.” 

“On the Williman farm in Knox,” Galvin said, “these guys volunteered to plant and pick various vegetables, most famously this potato, putting hundreds of pounds of food on people’s plates, feeding people in the Capital Region.  So we might think what we might sometimes about these guys and their shenanigans.  They are great in community service this year.”

Galvin held up a bottle of Silly String, which is fired off by graduates each year at the end of the ceremony. 

“I just want to remind you that I have my own supply so don’t come near me,” he said. 

Next was a cellular phone. 

“We know you guys can have a good time,” he said.  “We know you guys are a fun bunch.  But there’s a lot of people in this auditorium, me included, that want you to make smart decisions.  Pick up a phone if you need it in this time of celebration.  That could save yours and any other lives so remember that.” 

Galvin concluded his speech by hitting on some main points from an article — “What They Don’t Teach You in School” — by Harvey Mackay, a motivational speaker.

“His final point is to strive to help others,” said Galvin.  “This one particularly jumped out at me.”  

“Growing up in Berne, graduating from Berne-Knox-Westerlo, and teaching there for the last 13 years, I knew that this class had great experience with this aspect of Mr. Mackay’s article,” he said. 

One of the great Hilltown qualities that has always made him proud, Galvin said, is the extent to which people on the Hill help one another in the community.

“In times of need, you can always count on your neighbor to be there for you,” he said.

He recently read an article about a 78-year-old man, he said, who was hit by a car in Hartford, Conn. and left in the street while numerous people passed by without helping.

“After my initial shock that this could happen, I remember thinking of our community and how, in Berne, you’d probably practically have to knock people out of the way to help this guy,” Galvin said. 

After thanking the graduates for allowing him to share in “their special day,” he told the class, “Reach for the stars but don’t forget your roots.”

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