The 189 members of the New Paltz High School graduating class of 2017 claimed their diplomas inside the gym on the campus of SUNY New Paltz last Friday evening, June 23. The weather forecast of rain caused the ceremony to be relocated from its usual setting outdoors on the Floyd Patterson Athletic Field at the high school.
The move was unfortunate for the audience, as the PA system in the college athletic center is not suited to the subtleties of speech-making, and it was difficult, at best, to make out any of the words of the speeches.
Salutatorian Stephanie Stewart-Hill spoke about the need to “rise to the occasion” in life and own up to what one signs up for, something she learned participating in school sports as a member of the New Paltz cross-country and Nordic skiing teams. Stewart-Hill earned the spot as class salutatorian with a 100.3 grade point average. She is a member of the National Honor Society and was accepted into the National Youth Leadership Forum Medicine Program from her sophomore through senior years. She will attend the Honors College at the University at Buffalo with a major in psychology and minors in Spanish and statistics.
The student choral and band groups delivered a rousing performance of “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” after the salutatorian speech, punctuated with much hand-clapping from the assembled parents, and followed by a lengthy presentation of student awards and scholarships.
The remarks by valedictorian Joshua Berry were unfortunately completely inaudible from the back of the gymnasium. His credentials through high school are impressive: in addition to earning the valedictorian spot with a 101.5 grade point average, he was president of the school’s student government, co-editor of the school newspaper and a national AP scholar. He is the founding president of the New Paltz High School chapter of the Junior State of America, which prepares students for leadership roles. He also served as finance director on the State Executive Board of the New York High School Democrats, which oversees 21 local chapters, and is co-president of the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership organization in New York East Area 1. Berry has worked with state Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and volunteered for the congressional campaigns of Sean Eldridge, Will Yandik and Zephyr Teachout, as well as the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. Accepted at Harvard, Yale and Stanford, Berry will double major in economics and public policy.
The commencement speaker this year was New Paltz High School Spanish teacher and Interact Club advisor Rodrigo Castro, who said he was honored when a group of students approached him earlier this year to ask him to make the speech. In his engaging manner, he told the assembled group of students and family members that he consulted his colleagues to collect words of wisdom to pass along to the students. The overall theme of his message to the students was “don’t be afraid,” elaborating on the concept through the contributions made by his fellow teachers. Don’t be afraid to take on life; don’t be afraid to get to know your parents; and don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know.