The Saugerties High School Class of 2021 graduated beneath blue skies with a traditional ceremony on Friday, June 25, with hundreds gathering on the football field at the Washington Avenue campus.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which influenced much of the graduating seniors’ lives through the end of their junior year of high school, had finally withdrawn enough that a week prior to the ceremony the district abandoned a repeat of its 2020 exercise, which saw parents and students socially distancing in cars throughout. But while few masks were worn on Friday, the pandemic loomed large over the ceremony, with students and school officials noting how much they’ve had their resilience tested over the past year and how many of them feel it’s prepared them for just about anything to come.
In her valedictorian’s address, Olivia Staby spoke of how the global heath crisis had shown her the wisdom of letting go of rigidity and rolling with the punches.
“If anything, the pandemic showed us the importance of improvising,” Staby said. “If anything, it served as a reminder that life itself is an improvisation. We all fake it until we make it, whether we realize it or not. It may sound liberating to some, but to my worriers, myself included, it presents a world of exhaustion. We make decisions based on the fear of losing control, and we disguise it as being practical. Worrying can make you very successful, but very tired. When you grow up as a worrier, you are given the gift of analysis, and in return, you learn what people like to hear, you choose each word carefully, and you are always ten steps ahead and 20 minutes early. Thus, an inevitable cycle of burnout and tears prevail. No one should be burned out at 18.”
Staby said the pandemic has given her an excuse to consider a path forward that doesn’t involve burning out.
“My decisions throughout high school have always been through my love of learning, but my undeniable fear of failure and disapproval was my ultimate suffocating motivator,” she said. “So when the world forced me to slow down, I decided that I would not reach the end of my journey to realize I should have done it differently. I realized that life is too important to waste worrying about all the wrong ways you can live it. After all, how can we truly fail when the guidelines of success are fabricated and improvised themselves? The biggest contributions from my career at Saugerties High School are the truths I’ve learned to live by and my ability to distinguish them, even though it took years and a pandemic.”
Colin Leahy, class president, also touched upon how COVID-19 had taught the Class of 2021 lessons beyond what they might have learned in the classroom.
“It is without a doubt a great accomplishment to have today look like it does after a year of battling regulations from the governor, advice from the County Department of Health and most terrifying of all, feedback from our ever-loving and proud parents,” Leahy said. “Somebody suggested that the students graduating this year did not earn or receive a quality education because of the dynamic nature of our classrooms. I refuse to believe that. The lessons we learned and habits we were able to build this school year will serve us far better in the future than anything else. The versatility we achieved to this point, the disappointment, confusion, the feeling of defeat we all experienced carry more weight in the real world than each textbook Ms. (Amanda) Tuccillo can find.”
Sophia Kamrass, Class of 2021 salutatorian, said that the summer offered a chance to pause and reflect before moving forward.
“These last few months have been strange for me, and this past year has been strange for everyone,” Kamrass said. “Honestly, I don’t feel I have much to say on the future ahead of us, about following your dreams here or finding happiness there. Having a pandemic blow up your senior year is proof enough that the unexpected is always there to mess up your plans. So I think right now should be a moment of peace and just a good long breath before we have to dig in our heels again. Use the summer to explore. Do that thing that four years of high school hasn’t given you the time to try. Take care of yourselves everyone, and enjoy the lightning storms and the raging sea.”
During her address, Staby said that change is inevitable, but so too is a feeling of home.
“Happiness is about letting go of what I thought my life was supposed to be and what people expected of me and just embracing where I am now,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to lean in to challenges, to love, to fear, to people. You do not have to save the world to be a good person. I know this to be true, that growth can feel like loss. You do not need a grand reason to live…Let yourself be inspired rather than frightened by the passions of your heart. I know this to be true, that home is not tangible. It runs circles through my sister’s hazel eyes, it parades through my mother’s boisterous laugh, it is the smell of grease and pine in my father’s garage. It rests in the crackles of the old radio that I danced to in my grandmother’s kitchen. It is cradled by my teachers’ dedication. It glimmers in the arms of my friends and boyfriend. It is the love of every single person here. When we fall in this world, or get lost, because it will happen, know that you have a town and a school to welcome you home and that home is always near.”
The ceremony, which included performances by members of the Saugerties Senior High School band and choir, was followed by a parade through the village of graduates in cars.