The headlines are full of grim news about the poor economy and student loan debt, but the 214 members of the SHS Class of 2012 didn’t let anything rain on their parade last Saturday morning as they celebrated graduation under a blue Saugerties sky.
“Seize the day,” said Superintendent Seth Turner. “Never let someone else define success for you; that’s something you can do for yourselves.”
Not everyone could make it. Nick Jaeger, who enlisted in the Marines, was called up for boot camp the previous week and could not walk with his fellow classmates. However, those classmates kept Jaeger near to their hearts; they carried small American flags, and one student carried Jaeger’s cap and gown throughout the graduation ceremonies.
“Hats off to Nick Jaeger,” said class president and prom king Ethan Stanley. “He gave up his graduation to begin basic training.”
High school graduation ceremonies are thick with nostalgia. Students feel an emotional mix of sadness as they pass out of the sheltered magic of childhood and excitement at finally going off to do their own thing.
School officials go through the process every year.
“Thirty years ago I graduated high school,” Tom Averill, school principal, told the students. “Employers are still looking for hard workers,” he said, but the advice for graduates has changed to some degree; back then, students were told to look for a good career, now they’re told to build skills that will work in a number of careers.
Looking at the accomplishments of this class, Averill noted that 85 percent of the class would be receiving Regents diplomas. Altogether, members of the class completed 8,000 hours of community service in their four years at Saugerties High School. They should be proud of that, he said.
Thomas Ham, vice president of the Saugerties Board of Education, told the grads, “today you are turning a page in your life,” leaving a protected life behind. He said that the world “is unfair and messy” and challenging, but they should step up and face those challenges.
Class valedictorian Katharine Greco talked about how they all started a journey 13 years ago, “and today we have reached a major milestone, and we will be taking our knowledge, skills, and talents onward into the next phase of our lives.”
During their junior year, the Saugerties school district had to operate under an austerity budget, and Greco noted that students were able to raise enough money “to restore a portion of athletics, art, and music not included in the budget.
“Tomorrow, we must look to the future and aspire to bigger and better goals…Some believe we are the generation of instant gratification. As a society, we are connected to each other and to the rest of the world through mediums like Facebook and Twitter.” Greco said this connectiveness could be turned into this generation’s “greatest strength.”
Class salutatorian Alexa Abrams said it’s their past that will mold their future.
“We created the memories that will carry us throughout our lives,” Abrams said. “And as Dr. Seuss said, ‘We will succeed, 98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.’”
This shared enthusiasm and hope for the future was shown through the comments made by the grads after the ceremony as well.
John Winters, who will be going to Ulster County Community College in the fall, majoring in criminal justice with an eye to becoming an enforcement officer with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said that the difficult economy doesn’t really concern him, because “I have the support of my family and friends to see me through.”
Fellow student Christen Averill, daughter of principal Tom Averill, is headed off to SUNY Plattsburg to major in special education. She said she’s looking forward to the new challenges, and that the costs of education will be something that she will have to face down the road. But right now, she’s looking at learning how to be a teacher and to playing soccer for her new school.