Saugerties High School principal Thomas Averill played two roles at the June 26 commencement. As the school principal he presided over the ceremony. He also received a diploma, as he, like the members of the graduating senior class, is moving on after this school year.
Averill told the class that he was glad they were there. He wanted a chance to congratulate the class, Averill said. “You have come into this world at a very difficult time in American history, with the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center,” he told them. “You’re leaving high school in the middle of a pandemic. These kinds of hardships test our mental and physical capacity as you commence.”
Averill told the graduates they had had exciting moments and shared many accomplishments, which he listed, ending with the induction into the National Honor Society of four Saugerties students.
The class of 2020 has volunteered over 5000 hours of community service over its time in school. Three-quarters of the graduates would be attending college.
As Averill noted the many accomplishments of the class, a blast of car horns stood in for the usual round of applause.
A spot he made for himself
Class president Matthew Morgan revealed that he had been bullied, and he had to struggle to find a place in his school. He said he did not do many of the things he most enjoyed because he didn’t want the tougher boys to think he was too involved in feminine activities, such as art and music. Morgan said he tried to hide his interest in art and music for much of his youth, “but now I embrace it.” He credited the cruelty of some of his classmates with making him stronger, and he no longer has to try to fit in “because I have a spot that I made for myself.”
His experience with bullies had convinced the class president that “in times like these, we should not be afraid to speak up for what we believe in if it is right.” It isn’t always easy. “When you get through to someone to change their perspective,” he said, “it is worth it.”
Morgan said the person who bullied him had no idea of how hard he had struggled to overcome some of the roadblocks in his life. “Only you, and you alone, know your own struggles, and no one can take away the work that you have put in to overcome them,” Morgan told his classmates.
The high-school years can be stressful, and sometimes people believe they are alone with their problems. That isn’t true. “We have 170 amazing people here to talk to,” he said. “And if we can appreciate where the other person is coming from, we can change the world.”
Morgan will be attending Ithaca College, and will be in the graduating class of 2024. He will be majoring in cinema and photography. He planned career path is a visual-effects artist. “Yes, artist,” he said, “the same path I was bullied out of pursuing years ago.”
What makes you happy?
Salutatorian Mark Danza said these are turbulent times, and he has learned a lot, but the most important lesson has been “the importance of doing what makes you happy.” Acknowledging that it is important to have ambitions, and to work hard for them, “but if all I know is to accrue accomplishments hoping some day they will be worth something to me, that alone will never make me happy.”
In high school, finding what makes him happy has been finding the right people, Danza said. Danza said he was “fortunate enough to start off with two of the best parents I could ever ask for. They have been nothing but supportive of me and everything I have done.” Danza said he was also thankful for a wonderful group of friends and a fantastic girlfriend. “Those are the people who make me happy.”
Though the class of 2000 is moving on, “the world around us is still struggling to sort itself out, Danza said. “I could say we’re stepping into it, but that’s not true; we’re already here. We’re already being affected by it, and we’re already spending all our time in a very uncertain place.”
Danza said that this time is important, not just for graduates but for everybody.” But the final thought was to figure out what makes you happy, and do it.”
Our school is our community
Valedictorian Nicole Peters said she had trouble thinking of what to write about.
“Someone told me I should speak about what comes from the heart, so I’ve been thinking about what that means. I want to tell you what I have been thinking about myself,” she said.
The senior class has been out of school for a while, Peters said. “That makes it kind of hard to talk about the high-school experience, because it’s hard to remember what school actually felt like. I have been in such a routine of waking up at noon and doing whatever I want that driving to school at 7 a.m. feels like another world.”
In high school you’re always just kind of tired, she felt. “In the real world they talk about 8 a.m. classes, and nine to five, and the opening shift. But none of that sounds like the 7:45 bell every day.” She won’t miss that.
She won’t miss having to sign out of class to go to the bathroom, either. “We had to sign in every time we wanted to use the bathroom. And now, we are never going to have to ask to use the bathroom again.”
With freedom comes responsibility, Peters realizes. “We are not kids any more. We are going to be responsible for ourselves. We have got to make our own decisions. What do you want to do?”
There’s a minus side and a plus side. On the one hand, “We no longer have the excuse of being a kid when we mess up, or when we’re afraid to do something without our parents’ help.” On the other, it also means, “We get to go to the bathroom whenever we want.”
Don’t get the wrong idea. The four years of high school, however, were not all just work and rules, Peters said. “My classmates have always made my days so much more interesting and fun. When we’re not in class, we are in clubs, or teams, words that mean together. In some activities, the word they use is family. I personally can say that my time on the track and field and tennis teams have been one of the most memorable parts of my high-school experience.”
She offered a shout-out to friends and “the people who surround us define our lives as much as our class work ever did. Our school is our community.”
Completing the high-school experience is an accomplishment. “You have all worked hard to get to this point,” she told her classmates and their families. “You could have given up, but you did it, and now you’ve achieved this. All your hard work has brought you right here. It’s over. You should all be so proud of yourselves. I’m proud of me, and I’m proud of every one of you. I’m proud of us.”
After the speeches, the cars formed a line, and each family stopped, let their graduate out to have a picture taken, and then moved on. Each family returned to the parking space they had occupied, so that all could leave at the same time and form a procession through the village.