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Oswego High School Class of 2016 Told: ‘Strive To Be Extraordinary’

Dr. Heidi Sweeney, OHS Principal, presents a diploma to Valedictorian Jenna Ballard.

Dr. Heidi Sweeney, OHS Principal, presents a diploma to Valedictorian Jenna Ballard.

OSWEGO, NY – After 13 years of school, it took 21 minutes Saturday to turn the OHS Class of 2016 into freshly minted graduates.

Dr. Heidi Sweeney, OHS Principal, presents a diploma to Valedictorian Jenna Ballard.
Dr. Heidi Sweeney, OHS Principal, presents a diploma to Valedictorian Jenna Ballard.

The first diploma was presented at 10:55 a.m. and the clock above the SUNY Oswego Campus Center’s ice rink clicked to 11:16 a.m. as Alexander J. Zalenski received his diploma.

Valedictorian Jenna Ballard said she was excited.

“I’m happy and a bit nervous, too,” she told Oswego County Today. “It’s kind of hard to believe (graduation) is actually here.”

Another student said she thought the day would never come.

“But now that it’s here, it feels like it got here all of a sudden,” she added.

At the start of the ceremony, the class paid tribute to Andrew J. Sanders (1998-2016), a deceased member of the Class of 2016.

Superintendent Dr. Dean Goewey said 36 years ago today, that he  sat in the graduates’ your seat.

“From kindergarten through your senior year, many of those friendships will stay with you for a lifetime,” the member of the Class of 1980 told the Class of 2016. “Your lives will be filled with blessings, challenges and opportunities. Be resilient when times are tough.”

“Your words are powerful. They can inspire others, but just as easily cause harm,” Dr. Heidi Sweeney, principal told the graduates. “Many people will offer you advice. But develop and follow your own internal compass.”

Clare Donovan, Class President, said, “It seems like we were just naive freshmen starting at OHS.”

She recalled rumors of a third floor and the horrors of “Freshmen Friday.”

“I can remember going over before the first day and walking through my schedule countless times and then still getting lost the first few days. Then, there was the official first day. Everyone is taller than you, the building is way bigger and all the teachers are terrifying,” she said. “We somehow managed to survive it. In a few days, we were expert navigators with our fears mostly gone. The next three years went by in a flash and there we were, the summer before our senior year.”

With that came Senior Nights, last dances, “and difficult goodbyes,” she added.

Along the way there were senior activities and, of course, meltdowns about what comes after graduation.

“I now believe that college applications and scholarship essays are the real monsters under the bed,” she quipped.

The Class of 2016 rose to the occasion.

“We had a great year in athletics, sending many to Sectionals and States. We cleaned up at Art Shows and our music and theatre programs brought the house down. The seniors shut out the juniors at Powder Puff. Many lit up the stage at the JV Show and the Senior Night Show. We also conquered the scariest roller coasters on the class trip,” she said. “In the end, we banded together during difficult times and grew closer. We made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. I know that the future is no match for this class of seniors. I can’t wait to see what amazing things lie ahead.”

“My last decree as president is to enjoy our last summer before college. Don’t stress about roommates or meal plans. Just know that everything will be okay. I’ve sent three older siblings to college so I know this to be true,” she continued. “Be kind and good things will happen. Ask for help when you need it and lend a hand when others ask you for help. Be yourself and do what makes you happy. Try new things and push yourself to achieve more. Don’t be afraid of failure. It’s bound to happen, but it doesn’t make you any less awesome. And finally, congratulations to the OHS class of 2016! We’ll always be Buccaneers.”

Jacob Gerber, salutatorian of the Class of 2016, pointed out that salutatorian “is basically like a super fancy terms for second best.

He congratulated valedictorian Jenna Ballard for her immense success.

“The things she has done in academics are extraordinary and nearly exceed my expectations for what any student could possibly achieve,” he said.

He gave thanks to some of the people that helped make things possible; his coaches that gave him not only athletic advice but life advice, or in certain cases proved to become great friends and mentors.

“Shoutout to Coach Casey Jones, especially for everything he has done for me. I’d also like to thank my peers for inspiring me to exceed the status quo, and my friends who encouraged me and gave me an outlet to be myself. I’ve made a lot of friends here at OHS but I have to shoutout my best friends, The Four Horsemen as we dorkedly call ourselves. I have made so many epic memories with this group I’ll never forget and know I’ve found lifelong friends,” he said.

“Also, I’d like to thank the amazing teachers I was able to have these past four years and throughout my entire time in the Oswego City School District. Along with great teachers were terrific classes, such as my TV Class where my time as an anchor prepared me to have the confidence to do public speaking in front of my peers which has come in handy right about now!” he said.

Most of all, he thanked his family.

“My family is very supportive of me and my goals and have done whatever possible to make sure I am set up to achieve these goals and meet my absurdly high expectations. I also, as the official momma’s boy of the 2016 class, have to give a shoutout to my wonderful mother,” he said. “She has been the most influential person in my success, bugging me to get my homework done, looking over my final papers, or staying up way past her bedtime quizzing me or helping me with projects that I procrastinated to do until the last minute. Through all of the good and the bad of high school, she has been my rock. Thanks for everything momma!”

Reflecting on the class of 2016, he said he’s met some extraordinary people; amazing singers and actors, artists, speakers, athletes, students and friends.

“The class of 2016 has it all. One of the best parts of this class for me was how good everyone was at having a good time. Being able to spend my free time with fun-loving people that never fail to make me laugh was a great outlet for me in the midst of a rigorous academic and athletic schedule,” he said.

The class of 2016 has seen great successes; whether it was winning awards for theatrical productions, musical displays, athletic competitions, academic youth leagues, volunteerism or even if it was for simply graduating.

“Congratulations to all of you for your success. The Class of 2016 now looks on to the future. Whether we plan to go on to earn college degrees, learn a trade, or serve this country in the armed forces, or whether we don’t have a plan at all, in the time I’ve spent with this class, I know that everyone is capable of being successful,” he said. “My advice to this class is that whatever you choose to do, strive to be extraordinary. Be passionate, be confident, be great. There is greatness in all of us.”

“I have such great memories here at OHS. I did a lot of great things and I definitely did my fair share of stupid or impulsive things, but I wouldn’t take back any of it,” he said.

The salutatorian quoted Andy Bernard from the TV show ‘The Office.’ “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.”

“This quote reminds us that high school is our good old days. This class of 2016 has made great memories together and I hope everyone can think fondly upon their time at OHS as I have. Congratulations Oswego High School Class of 2016,” he said.

“I have found throughout the past four years that it is crucial not to let a number define you,” Valedictorian Ballard said. “Your class rank, grades, test scores, et cetera, do not reflect how smart you are. They do not, and should not, be taken as an indicator of how successful you can become, and do not dictate what you can and cannot do. Do not let them put you down, and do not let them inflate your pride. The number of figures in your income does not even begin to describe your kindness, your generosity, or your happiness. The number on the scale does not depict the beauty of your smile and the brightness of your eyes.”

The Class of 2016 can defy the odds and expectations predetermined by statistics and trends, she pointed out.

“In choosing to walk our own paths, we face judgment and criticism, but people are going to judge us no matter what, so we might as well just live our lives as we prefer. It is freeing when we simply don’t care what people think of us, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind,” she said. “There are going to be people out there who tell us we are not good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not beautiful enough, not talented enough. And unfortunately, sometimes we tell ourselves these things.”

When in doubt, she said she thinks of the quote on Mrs. Rogers’ wall: “What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”

Take risks. If you never failed, you would never learn, she told her classmates.

“Challenge failure and do not let it win. You’d be amazed at what you have within and what you can achieve with hard work and dedication,” she said. “As many of us may have experienced, life is by no means easy and we will inevitably face challenges. But there are also people out there who have supported us through thick and thin, believed in us when we doubted ourselves, pushed us to achieve more than we ever thought we could. I implore you, please do not forget these people, for without them, we would not be here today.”

She wrote a letter on behalf of the class thanking those who made it possible for the students make it to graduation day.

It included families, teachers, staff and the Oswego community.

“On behalf of the OHS Class of 2016, it is my honor to thank you for all of the support, encouragement, and dedication that you have given to us throughout our lives. It is because of you that we have been able to come so far and will continue to grow. You have equipped us with the tools necessary for making a lasting impact in our lives,” she said.

As she concluded, she asked that the teachers and staff in the audience stand for a round of applause.

“Now, please give your families a round of applause,” she asked the Class of 2016. “Congratulations, OHS Class of 2016. We did it, but do not forget where you came from, and please remember to give back.”