OSWEGO, NY – It took barely 34 minutes Saturday morning to turn nearly 300 OHS seniors into freshly minted graduates.
“I’m excited. It’s always bittersweet; you work with the kids all year, you hate to see them go. At the same time, you’re excited for them. You reminisce a little bit, you put yourself back and remember what it was like to be 17 and 18 at your graduation,” said Principal Brian Hartwell as he closed the chapter on his first year on the job.
The Class of 2011 was just opening the book on the rest of their lives, he pointed out.
“We look at commencement as a beginning,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to forget old friendships but you look forward to the rest of your life and you start to live your life. It’s exciting; it really is exciting. I think we have a great group of kids here and look forward to hearing even greater things about them in the future. It’s sad to see them go. But we’re awful proud of them!”
“I can’t wait!” exclaimed Meghan Carl as she made last-minute adjustments to her cap and gown.
“But,” she admitted, “I am really nervous, too.”
Jacqueline Hondro took it even further.
“I’m feeling every emotion there is! Everything – I’m nervous, I’m excited, I’m relieved,” she said.
Superintendent Bill Crist congratulated the graduates, calling it “a magnificent day.”
He encouraged the Class of 2011 to go out into the world and make a difference.
School board president Dave White said this was the graduates’ day; however, he reminded them to take time to say thank you to all those who have helped them reach this pinnacle.
“When I was brainstorming ideas for what to talk about in this speech, more than one of my friends jokingly told me to just use Diane Court’s speech from ‘Say Anything,’ because of my totally normal love for that movie. I promise I won’t make any ‘Back to the Future’ jokes, but there’s one line in her speech that gets to me every time I hear it, especially in the last few times I’ve watched the movie. She says, ‘But when I think about the future, the truth is, I am really … scared,’” Nikole Bonacorsi, the valedictorian told her classmates.
That’s a thought she has been increasingly connected with lately, she admitted.
A few weeks ago, she had the pleasure of going back to Riley school, her elementary school, to teach economics to her former first grade teacher’s class.
“When I stepped foot inside Riley for the first time in years, it really struck me how little had changed in the six years since I’d been a student there. But yet, somehow, it felt completely different,” she said. “I guess that’s what I’m most afraid of – going back to a place that once was the only thing you knew, only to realize that it hasn’t changed at all, but you’re the one who’s different.”
“None of us can really know for certain where we’re going, where we’ll end up. This is as exciting as it is scary. On one hand, we’re all about to really start growing up, about to meet the people who could very well be some of the best friends we’ll ever have,” she continued. “But, on the other hand, we all have best friends now, people that we love and don’t want to lose. I can’t predict the future. I wish I could know which of us will make it and which of us will fall out of touch. But, there’s just no way to know. I guess all any of us can do is hope. Hope that we can stay close to the people we love despite the distance, and hope that, even if we can’t, it’s for a reason. As Andy says in ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ ‘hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.’”
Chris Watson, a 1993 OHS grad and current TV sports anchor and reporter, was the keynote speaker this year.
“Enjoy the ride,” he instructed the new graduates as the embarked on the rest of their lives.
Graduates seldom remember who the keynote speaker was at their ceremony, left alone what he or she said, Watson pointed out. “So, just remember those three words,” he said.
The students who got the A’s will likely continue to excel in the real world, if the continue to apply themselves, he said. The students who got B’s would probably have to work a bit but would also do very well, he added.
Those who got C’s would have to work harder and longer to make an impact.
“The rest of us, don’t worry, you’re going to be fine, too. In 18 years you could actually come back and be the commencement speaker,” he quipped.
And, he had a few words of caution for the graduates, before they go changing their son or daughter’s bedroom into a walk-in closet or hot tub room, “remember, they will be back.”
Watson kept the pace of the ceremony moving right along; “Because when this is over, I’m going down the street and I’m getting a Texas hot and fries (at Rudy’s),” he explained.
Hartwell said he was “proud and honored” to serve as principal for the Class of 2011.
“You are the author of a brand new book entitled, ‘My Life,’” he told the graduates. “While this chapter is closing; look at commencement as a beginning. Don’t put things off; you’re life is happening right now!”
He also offered the following quote, “Get thee rosebuds while ye may.” Similar quotes have stood the test of time, he continued, adding the modern version from a song he was listening to that morning – “Everybody dies. But not everybody lives.”
“The challenge is to live your life,” he said.
A life lost too early was also remembered at graduation.
Lt. Nathan Hollingsworth Williams, formerly of Oswego, a weapons systems operator in the United States Navy, died earlier this spring in a training accident at Lemoore Naval Air Station in Lemoore, Calif. The 28-year-old was recognized during the graduation ceremony.
Luke Familo was presented with the first-ever Lt. Nathan Hollingsowrth Williams Memorial Scholarship.
The lieutenant’s parents, Alan and Gay Williams, were joined on stage by Al and Sue Rauch, parents of his wife, Meredith Rauch, to present the scholarship.
Contributing to the award were not only members of the school district, but of the city of Oswego as well.
“The outpouring of support in this community has been overwhelming,” Gay Williams said.
Syracuse University also sponsored an award honoring Williams. It is being presented to a student who excelled in SUPA economics.
The instructor, Ed Stacy presented the award to Justine Harrington, Class of 2011 salutatorian.
“Our common background gives us all sense of understanding between each other, but we all have our own individual pasts and experiences that make us unique. This is what I have enjoyed most about school- making connections with people. I have learned that making friends and getting to know people is more important than any grade I could ever be given,” she said. “And now is perhaps the most bittersweet time to reflect upon this. I have recently been putting my life in boxes preparing for the exciting notion of what’s next. But as photos and newspaper clippings and cards all get tucked away, those memories will forever live on.”
“I have made friends with people who excel in the five core subjects. I know there are people sitting here that are the most caring individuals that I have ever met, who want to go on and help others with what they do. There are also people here with pride and leadership that are going to serve our country, for which we thank you. And there are also others who are entering the workforce, the very foundation of our society, which we could not live without,” she added. “However, no matter what you are doing – believe in yourself and try new things. You may meet someone who will become extremely important in your life or realize you have a hidden talent.”
She wished her classmates good luck in the future and urged them to keep the connections they made at OHS strong, “because those people have your back no matter the time, place, or distance. And in the words of the wise Jedi Masters, ‘May the force be with you.’”