The commencement ceremony for the Saugerties High School class of 2017 started an hour late so the ceremony could be held outdoors. The ground needed to dry after a morning rain. The sky was blue.
There are 203 members of the graduating class.
“For some, college is the next chapter,” said senior class president Daelan Santamaria. “Or, for some, the military or entering the work force. As for myself, I have absolutely no idea, and it’s kind of scary. It’s okay for now. There’s still a little time to figure stuff out.”
He expressed hope that the friends made in high school will stay in contact for all their lives. “If we don’t stay in touch, I urge you to come to reunions,” he said. “That’s what they’re for.”
“Never let anyone define success for you,” schools superintendent Seth Turner told the graduating class. “That’s something you get to do for yourself.”
“I’m the Bozo,” Turner confessed. His explanation: “When you ask the question, who’s the Bozo who had the bright idea to cancel school today, and it isn’t even snowing? I was the Bozo. Who’s the Bozo that decided to move that bus stop down the street that used to be right in front of our house? I was the Bozo.”
The answer would be the same for any grievance or question students had during the past 13 years. “Yes, I am the Bozo, and I’m proud of it.”
The superintendent said he feels responsible for what happens in the schools. Responsibility is important to him. He hopes the students at Saugerties High School have learned responsibility for themselves, their families, their friends and their community.
“This Bozo cheered loudly at lip synch because I was moved by your performance. This Bozo clapped raucously .after your play to make sure you knew we were in the audience.” Turner gave further examples of his cheering for sports teams, for awards students earned.
And, he said, “I’m also the Bozo who couldn’t find the words to say to you in a funeral home as we wept for the loss of one of ours. Today I’ll let you know, Morgan [Finch, who died in 2014 of leukemia], you are loved, and you are with us and we miss you.
Salutatorian Lilith Haig began her address with an ode by a classmate to his father. She followed up with a poem of her own, “inspired by Dr. Seuss, the Flatbush Zombies and Vladimir Lenin.” The poem concluded, “Now I can’t help but wish you all the most/can’t help but send love and send hope/bake bread and make toast/class of 2017 we got the most/.”
Why did the chicken not cross the road? Because he was too chicken.
That first line of valedictorian Anna Marie Armstrong’s speech set the tone. “The truth is that our goals are on the other side of the road. Like the chicken, who must have had something he was trying to cross the road for, we have to find our goals and go for them,” she said. The paraphrase has its counterpart in reaching our goals, Armstrong said
High school principal Thomas Averill started off his speech by recognizing six retirees from the Saugerties schools. He said their service to the school district added up to 180 years. “I can’t help but be grateful for the thousands of students they may have affected over those 180 years.” Averill also congratulated the BOCES vocational and technical students, whose graduation he attended last week. He noted that a Saugerties High School student, Maya Gray, was the salutatorian for the BOCES class of 2017.
Averill drew wild applause and cheers when he asked the graduates, “How does it feel to have finally reached graduation day?”
Averill offered a slogan for the day, and the celebrations to follow: YOLO, you only live once, which has gained popularity following a rap song, Motto, by Drake.
“It’s a dangerous idea, because if you only live once, you can do anything you want, when you want to do it,” he said. “But it is true that we only have one life to live, and we should live it as fully and successfully as we can.” He outlined a method for doing this. While for some, YOLO implies recklessness, it should mean more than just enjoyment.
One example of YOLO is the more than 5000 hours of community service performed by class members. “During my short career as an educator, I have been most impressed by this generation’s empathy toward others,” Averill said.
School board member Raymond Maclary, whose son, Jack, is a member of the graduating class, thanked the many people who made the graduation ceremony possible, “the preparation, the cleaning and the weather watching.” He thanked the teachers and staff, the parents and families of the students.
Maclary recalled the day he dropped his son off for kindergarten and asked, “How did we get here so soon?” His appreciation extended to Tom Tom, an exchange student from Hong Kong who is not a member of the senior class, “but I thank him for what he brought to our school.”
He asked the graduates to give a standing round of applause to their parents, teachers and “anyone else who helped get you here today.”
Finally, Averill presented an honorary diploma to the mother and sister of Morgan Finch, a SHS student who passed away in 2014 following a battle with leukemia.