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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 10, 2008

For Voorheesville
Lucky to live in a small-town world

By David S. Lewis

VOORHEESVILLE – The Class of 2008 heard advice written 27 centuries ago by Sun Tzu, a Chinese warlord. 

“Know your opponent,” Superintendent Linda Langevin told the 109 graduates, quoting from The Art of War at the June 27 commencement ceremony. 

The Art of War teaches that the key to military strategy lies not in careful planning but adaptability and readiness for changing circumstances, a pertinent lesson for graduates in transition to adulthood.

Langevin also assured the graduates that Voorheesville had equipped them and prepared them for whatever was next to come.

“Graduating from Voorheesville, you have all the advantages,” she said.  “Combat and control your fear, and then you can accomplish anything you wish.”

Langevin also quoted another, more modern author, urging students to live by the four agreements of  Don Miguel Angel Ruiz, who wrote a book of that title.

“Be impeccable with your word...Don't take anything personally; nothing others do is because of you,” she said.  “Don't make assumptions; ask what you need to, and communicate.” 

She concluded with an exhortation that the graduates always do their best, the last of the four agreements.

At the start

The sun was descending on the Helderbergs, cloaked in the mist of the past several days rain as the moisture was burned off the green leaves.  The Capital Region Celtic Pipe Band, with the solemn strains of the bagpipes, led the students, garbed in purple gowns and mortarboards resplendent with gold trim, to the school's football field.  The seniors had petitioned the school board to allow them to have their graduation outside rather than suffer from limited indoor seating.  The rain held off and the graduates' families, friends, and Voorheesville's school community at large gathered on the field and thundered with applause as the students filed past them.

The class sentiment was given by Megan Carnahan, Katharine Pofit, and Anthony LaRosa; after teasing students and faculty members, they said they had been put in charge of hiring entertainment for the graduation.  After several top acts had learned the school had only $15 to cover entertainment expenses, the only group available was The Backstreet Boys, they said.

The ensuing dance number, performed by five seniors dressed all in white, was “I Want It That Way,” a pop hit from several years ago, played at deafening volume from large speakers.  The dancers showed off their stuff with expertly choreographed spins and fingers pointing into the air for emphasis; the performance elicited cheers and applause from the audience as the dancers spun and contorted on the track.

Members of the choir also performed a more subdued song, “Fields of Gold,” a sad song of parting; the melody drifted across the field and hovered for a moment when the song was over, until the cheers of the crowd punctuated the last fading note.

Students speak

Salutatorian Kevin Klembcyzk addressed seniors and crowd.

“They told me my job was to salute you; to be funny, to keep it short, and to salute the class,” he said.  “What the heck does that mean?”

He went on to share Associate Principal Patrick Corrigan's frequent advice to him: Don't screw it up. 

The advice, given to him to help him with his speech, could be easily applied to seniors venturing on.

Klembcyzk also told a story of three college students who partied too hard before a Monday exam.  They told their professor that they had had a flat tire; the ruse seemed to work, as the professor agreed to allow them to take the exam late.  The exam consisted of two questions: the first, worth 5 percent of their grade, was an easy question on the subject matter.  The second question, worth 95 percent of their grade, was harder:  which tire went flat?

“The professor was nice enough to fail them,” he said.

Student-chosen speaker, Allison Funk, spoke of the fears of going into the post-high school world of college and career.  She urged students to adapt to their new surroundings, but not to lose their self-identity as graduates of Voorheesville's high school.

She also talked about how lucky they had been to live in a community that was supportive and small-town, remarking on how a large university campus would differ from the relative coziness of Voorheesville.

“We've lived in a school where the principal announces the soup of the day every morning,” said Funk. 

She concluded by saying there were many paths through the next phase of their lives, and that not everyone would choose the “American Dream.”

“Some of us might choose to forge paths that don't involve marriage or nine-to-five- jobs,” she said.

The class gift, purchased by the Class of 2008 for the future classes to use, is a new sound system, which was used at the ceremony.

Voorheesville's 2008 valedictorian, Clara Fried, told the students that they could choose whether to be afraid or excited by the transition they were experiencing, equating it with the “butterflies in her stomach.”

“They feel the same, so you can choose which one you want to feel,” said Fried.

Speaking of  favorite childhood books, such as those of Dr. Seuss and Crockett Johnson's Harold and the Purple Crayon, she said that all of those stories had important messages that make more sense as you get older.  Green Eggs and Ham's, for instance, teaches a lesson on open-mindedness.

“And, if you need to de-stress after a long day in college, you can ask your roommate to read you, “Goodnight, Moon,” she said.

Fried acknowledged the vital role that Voorheesville teachers had in their education. 

“We couldn't have done it without the dedication and creativity of our teachers,” she said.

Fried wished good luck to long list of people, including her classmates, Barack Obama, and parents “as they struggle to pay our tuition.”

The Class of 2008 chose its elementary principal, Edward Diegel, to give the address.  He was also  class's elementary school principal, Diegel was the interim principal for them in high school.  Diegel said that it had been a special treat to be reunited with the class since he had not seen them since the students left the elementary school in 2002.

Diegel admonished the graduates to make careful choices for their next phase of life.

“You've reached a fork in the road of Easy Street,” he said.  He advised them against forging a belief system based on popularity or television shows.

He also called on the words of Sir Edmund Hillary, who died earlier this year; Hillary was the first European to climb Mount Everest, the 29,000-foot peak in the Himalayas.

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves,” quoted Diegel.

The sun, bright over the hills, was at its most brilliant as the school board president, David Gibson, presented the graduates with their diplomas, to the cheering of the parents and siblings, friends and family, and the proud community of Voorheesville.

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