A graduating class of 149 students filed onto the Carl F. Meekins Athletic Field at Highland High School for commencement ceremonies yesterday evening. Principal William Zimmer presided over the distribution of diplomas in Highland for the first time, noting that the class of 2018 had arrived at the school as freshmen in September of 2014, just two months prior to his own arrival at the high school, then as assistant principal.
“We learned about this place together,” he told the students. “I got to know many of you pretty well. Time passed and we grew together. I have since become principal of the high school and you have grown into young adults who are ready to move on. Regardless of the path you choose, I am confident that you are ready for the challenge.”
Zimmer gave special recognition to Alecia Wilk, Arianna Ranalli and Dean Riley, who have already earned their associate’s degree along with their high school diploma by participating in the dual enrollment program at SUNY Ulster. Ranalli and Riley were also valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, at Thursday’s commencement exercises.
Riley’s salutatorian address was exuberant, the teen dancing up to the mike to deliver five quotes from notable people and the reasons he found their words compelling. He chose not to give advice in the traditional manner of graduation speakers, Riley said, because he felt that as a graduating senior himself, he was in no position to advise fellow classmates going through the same experience he was.
He referenced the song lyrics from “What the world needs now” in the context of love as a panacea to problems of the contemporary world. “We are in an era where tragedy is too often, from school shootings, to an opioid crisis, to melting ice packs. We are constantly bombarded with sad and horrifying news. I encourage you all to use your voices, to not be silent and remember where you came from and the values received from growing up in the tight-knit community of Highland.”
Riley urged his classmates to “keep putting love into the world. Because love is liberating. I’ll say that again… Love is liberating. And when we love one another, we can respect one another. We can support one another and we can make progress with one another.”
Valedictorian Arianna Ranalli kept it short and sweet, continuing the theme of love by thanking her family for “putting up with me all these years,” noting, “I don’t know how you were able to do it, but you did, and it’s mainly because of your support, love and patience that I’m up here right now.”
To her fellow students, she noted all the time they’ve spent together in the last 13 years since beginning school, and the achievements she’s seen them accomplish in many different venues. “I’ve seen qualities in each of you that have set you apart from the rest. We’ve all been individual pieces that make up the wonderful puzzle that is the class of 2018.”
The faculty commencement speaker was Highland High School social studies teacher, Cathy Gruner, who also brought love into the equation. She advised the about-to-be-graduates to “love whatever you do. You have to do it with love.”
Remarking upon the number of words the ancient Greeks had for different forms of love, she referenced the type of love they referred to as agape. “This is love that you extend to all people, whether family members or distant strangers. Agape was later translated into Latin as ‘caritas,’ the origin of our word ‘charity.’ Agape appears as early as the writings of Homer, who Plato called ‘the first teacher.’ Homer wrote that ‘the charity that is a trifle to us can be precious to others.’ So that smile that you give to someone in greeting, that pat on the back, that interest expressed in someone’s experience, or concern, is truly an act of love, agape. Be inspired by those around you and be an inspiration for those around you. You cannot change the world by yourself, but you can inspire.”
Photos by Lauren Thomas.