OSWEGO, NY – After 13 years of school, it took about 33 minutes Saturday to turn the OHS Class of 2015 into freshly minted graduates (it was 28 minutes for the class of 2014). At 10:52 a.m., diplomas were received by the first batch of students. The clock above center ice clicked to 11:25 a.m. as Carrie Yurkon accepted the final diploma.
“Looking back, this (school) year went by pretty fast. I’ve been waiting for this day. It got here quickly,” said one graduate as he got ready for the start of the ceremony. “I am excited to be graduating. But, I’m also nervous about the future.”
Principal Erin Noto welcomed the students and audience to the 159th OHS commencement. She said she was “excited and proud” of the Class of 2015.
In his second graduation address as superintendent, Ben Halsey encouraged the graduates to get steamed up.
“212. The concept is quite simple. At 211 degrees, water is hot! At 212 degrees, water boils and with boiling water comes steam. And, with steam – you can power a train,” the superintendent explained. “One degree of difference, between hot water and powering a locomotive. I encourage you to stop for a moment and translate this concept into the effort you put forth in every aspect of your life. One degree difference. One extra little bit of work. It makes a difference.”
He told the graduates to put 212 degrees into everything they do.
“You are responsible for your results; it’s time to turn up the heat,” he said. “Live your life at 212 degrees. Give it that little extra effort.”
He congratulated the students as well as the faculty for the hard work they have done.
“We now have a bond that will last a lifetime,” he said. “I encourage you to go out there and explore the world, learn from it, teach it, take the time to experience its wonder … but please know this – you will always be welcome home.”
School Board Vice President Lynda Sereno said their time at OHS has prepared the students well to continue to grow and learn in the future.
“Go, spread your wings and follow wherever your dreams take you,” she said.
Noto told the graduates at her high school graduation she couldn’t wait for it to be over so she could get on with her life. Four years later, at her college graduation, she was thinking the same thing.
Her life experiences have made her appreciate her high school friends and family, she pointed out.
“Regardless of where life takes you after today, you’ll never have the same type of bond with anyone than you do with the person sitting right next to you today,” the principal said.
These are the friends that were there when you had your first crush, your first heartbreak and first to call “shotgun” when you got your first driver’s license, she said.
“These friends, sitting next to you today, will always be your first friends. And, because of that, they’ll always hold a special place in your heart,” she told the graduates. “Cherish them. Take lots of selfies. Do your best to keep up with each other. Never take them for granted; they are the reason why you’re sitting here today.”
Allison Smith, the class president, said writing her speech was very hard to do.
“I really didn’t know what to say to represent how everyone feels. I know some are sad, some are ecstatic, but most feel bitter sweet,” she explained. “I didn’t feel that it was right for me to come up here and only share my fondness memories at OHS. So, I decided to do something a little bit different. The last week of school I went around and had some classmates write down their favorite memories, things they wanted to tell a teacher or something that they just wanted to say to the class.”
She went on to share several of the responses she received.
Among the comments were:
Kellie Gorman’s favorite high school memory was being a part of the volleyball team all four years and creating a bond that is unforgettable.
Michael Edwards’s favorite memory from senior year was participating in New Visions and getting to meet tons of great people.
Shanell Meyers’ favorite memory from senior year would be going on the Senior Class trip to Florida.
Brenna Sherman: she loved the sense of unity we felt within our class when we realized we did not have much time left and we had to make the most of it.
Hannah Broadwell’s favorite memory was losing her voice on all the rides at Disney because she was screaming like her life was going to end.
She also shared her favorite memories.
“I want to thank Ms. Jackson for teaching me how to be a good leader and for being a role model to me. I also want to thank my family for supporting me, my mom for being my rock and best friend and my dad for always asking where the other point was when I got a 99 on a test. You both pushed me and led me to be the person I am today,” she said.
And, to her classmates, she said, “I know high school was hard at times and for most, the only thing that got them through was Dunkin’ every morning. But, I hope that you always look back on the good things that went on during high school. Don’t ever let anyone limit you because everyone has the ability to do something great, you just have to be willing.”
“I have enjoyed being your class president for the past three years and I hope that you can look back at high school in 10 or 20 years and remember being young and having fun,” Smith said. “I wish everyone the best of luck on wherever your path takes you.”
Alaina Celeste, salutatorian, said only 37% of American adults believe today’s youth once grown, will make the world a better place. A 61% majority of American adults are convinced that today’s youth face a crisis in their values and morals. That overwhelming majority view young people in general with a sense of misgiving and feel that they are undisciplined, disrespectful, and unfriendly. Only 20% of young people perceive that adults in the community value youth.
These statistics were presented at the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership seminar that she attended a few years ago.
“Now at first, this seemed like a rather harsh reality we’d be entering into. But, this isn’t anything new for our generation alone,” Celeste said. “This dynamic has been evident throughout history and mainly due to the fact that the younger generation does things differently than how those of the older generation are used to or comfortable with.”
This pattern has been evident in countless other occasions, “even in our everyday lives,” she said, adding, “It’s the classic ‘us versus them’ and for those of you who took psychology, it’s known as the ingroup outgroup effect.”
“There is so much to be learned from the people around us, how are we to understand the immense diversity that makes up our civilization if we struggle to overcome our own perception that we are better than any other group, and therefore don’t need their help,” she said. “Especially now, as we go off to college, enter employment, the armed forces, or elsewhere, look at how you view the people around you. You have the power to choose how you view the world and the people in it, and it’s all based on your perception.”
She said she assumed the adults at the ceremony – “our teachers, family and friends” aren’t included in the previous statistics.
“They were our support system and have helped guide us to the point we are at now. They’ll continue to be that support system for us, but it’s now our turn, our responsibility, to create a name for ourselves, as the future leaders of our generation,” Celeste said. “This data does not define us, who we are, or what we have to offer. I ask of you, Class of 2015, to challenge the indifference that has caused a staggering amount of adults to have wavering faith in us. Do not accept something for what it is; challenge it, ask questions and be your own critical thinker.”
She then shared another piece of information used in the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar.
More than 93% of America’s young people believe they can individually and collectively make a difference in their communities.
“93% of us think we can make a difference. That’s monumental. When you think about the expected 3.3 million people that are to graduate this year alone in the U.S., imagine the astounding affect we can have on the people around us,” she said. “We each have the power to influence how we live in this world. This does not mean that we have to save the world all at once, in some heroic event like one might imagine after watching Interstellar or the Avengers too many times. The change can be as small as making a difference in one person’s life. Even the smallest of actions, can mean the world to another person. I know we will all be going off in our own direction, but no matter where that road takes us, above all be open-minded to what is provided around you and share that knowledge with others. Thank you. And of course, congratulations Class of 2015.”
“Today, we graduate from high school with a wide range of general knowledge. The structure of the curriculum facilitated intellectual exploration and expansion while enabling us to pursue our own unique interests through access to electives and extracurricular activities. Such exposure equipped us with knowledge to make educated determinations about our future, and establish professional and academic goals,” Valedictorian Kara Weiss said.
President Harry Truman was the first to introduce the idea that, “’C’ students run the world,” she said, explaining that the idea that “C” students are the most successful is based on the belief that they maintain a certain level of balance in their lives between academics and socialization, and are more inclined to take risks, and thus, are more likely to reap rewards than those who falter in the face of uncertainty.
“Although I might be biased, I like to think Truman was wrong. Success is not limited to the risk takers. Triumph is not accessible only to those who are willing to jeopardize past accomplishments and sacrifice current success,” she said. “Frequently, famous people who abandoned college for other pursuits are used as examples of ‘the C student.’ They are presented as people who managed to achieve success while rejecting traditional ideals and are praised for their inspirational tenacity and ingenuity.”
Common examples include: Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Matt Damon.
One thing all three men have in common that is mentioned less frequently than their personal wealth, is the fact that they all dropped out of Harvard, which is likely a good indication that they were all capable and intelligent individuals prior to beginning their college education, she noted.
A similar argument can be made against Truman’s statement in favor of students who have little or no academic inclination, regardless of formal training, she added.
Actress Halle Berry, celebrity chef Rachael Ray, author Mark Twain, entrepreneur Ray Kroc and architect Frank Lloyd Wright do not have more than a high school education, yet, they all found immense success through their talent and hard work.
“The implication is not that C students can’t be successful, only that C students are likely no more, or less successful than anyone else. Success is a product of motivation, determination, sacrifice and desire,” Weiss said. “While some people are able to accomplish greatness though intellectual achievements, others thrive and flourish through the development of skills and service. Neither path is more noble nor more valid than the other.”
Many of the accomplishments of the class can be attributed to the teachers who made the decision to surpass the requirements of their job and dedicate themselves to the students’ education, Weiss said.
Teachers who held review classes on their own time, came into work only days after losing loved ones, paid for supplies with their own money, kept food in their desks for hungry students, and drove back to school after hours or on weekends to support fundraisers, sports teams, musicians, or artists.
“We will leave here with our diplomas today. But, next year, the teachers will return to the school to enlighten, impact and inspire the graduating class of 2016, and many classes to follow. They are the fundamental pillars of the school, and to them we are deeply indebted and incredibly grateful. Their support, in addition to the support from family, friends, and the community has been instrumental in our success,” she said. “To my fellow classmates, congratulations and may your hard work garner the results you deserve.”