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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 8, 2010
For BKW: Memoirs mingle with dreams for the future
By Zach Simeone
BERNE “Well, it’s over.”
Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s valedictorian, Michael Galgay, had heard these words from peers and parents, just before they’d asked him how he felt about high school ending.
“I, for one, beg to differ,” he told the crowd at the BKW High School graduation. “I want to take a different view of this whole situation: I think it’s just starting.”
On Saturday, June 26, Galgay and his classmates waved goodbye to BKW, and to high school. Most will move on to college, others will go straight to work.
At 10:30 a.m., the gowned graduates formed a line and filed into the Empire Center at The Egg. The scent of chewing gum followed close behind.
Before descending through the crowd to their seats on the stage, they watched from the back of the theater as a visual tribute to their class was shown on a large projection screen, set to a soundtrack of Sting, Jay-Z, Frank Sinatra, and others.
“Here is the best part: You have a head start, if you are among the very young at heart,” Sinatra sang.
In the middle of the photomontage was a video clip of Renée Lussier, a graduate, playing her guitar and singing at a concert. The audience clapped, and horns sounded. Lussier is the youngest member and frontwoman of Branchwater, a band that she plays in with her father.
Then, as has become tradition, a second montage played, this one depicting each student as a baby, followed by his or her senior portrait. Graduates clapped, laughed, cheered, and made a variety of other sounds as they realized that the baby sprawled out in an inflatable swimming pool; dressed up as Superman; or standing at the top of a waterfall in a diaper, was in fact their close friend.
Then, the school band played “Pomp and Circumstance,” and the graduates walked down the theater’s center staircase. Two at a time, they met at the center and posed for photos. One pair pounded fists on each other’s backs as they hugged, and then stood with their arms crossed for the audience. Later, a student jumped into the arms of his friend as the flashbulbs went off. Some wore plastic eyeglasses with a “2010” popping up from the frames.
After secondary Principal Thomas McGurl led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the band played the national anthem, school board President Maureen Sikule addressed the graduating class.
“Graduation is a crossroads, a time to reflect on what has come before, and to look ahead to the future,” Sikule said. She went on to say that Interim Superintendent Kim LaBelle, like the graduates, is at a crossroads herself, as she will leave BKW in July to become superintendent in Galway.
“We wish the class of 2010 all the success in your future endeavors, and are glad we were a part of your education,” said Sikule. The school board president then introduced the class president, Kristin DePeaux.
“This is it”
“When Mr. McGurl first asked me to bring him a copy of my speech, I thought, ‘That’ll be easy; I’ll have it done in like 20 minutes,’” said DePeaux. “But it wasn’t until I sat down to write that I realized how hard it would be to sum up 13 years of friendship, tears, and the occasional pants’ wetting.”
But, she said, when she was on her way home from her college orientation, she thought, “This is it.”
“Even though we are all branching off onto our own paths, nothing can take from what we’ve shared,” DePeaux said. “I know I’ll never be able to drink Coke without thinking of Scanlon; hear ‘Freebird’ without picturing Ryan; see a meatball without laughing; or look at a mini-basketball without thinking of that fateful day in McCoy’s class…Whether it was a new love for skateboarding; a mushroom chair war; Seth bringing back Magic cards; or techno dance parties courtesy of the bros, something interesting was always going on,” she said.
But there is more to her peers than playing Call of Duty and drinking Mountain Dew, she explained.
“We have big dreams,” she told the crowd. “Nanotechnology; chemical engineering; nursing; journalism; we’re going to do it all. Some of us are staying close to home; some of us are traveling further away.”
She assured the crowd that the graduates will always remember where they came from.
“When I look at the young adults on the stage next to me, I see strong, intelligent, and compassionate people, ready to take on the world,” DePeaux said. “We are ready to make a difference, ready to start a career, and ready to make a lot of money,” she joked. “Congratulations, guys; we made it to the finish line.”
DePeaux then introduced Julia Dancer, the first of two co-salutatorians, who began by addressing her maternal grandparents, who were in town from Germany to see her and her twin sister, Sarah, graduate. As they speak very little English, Dancer spoke to them for a moment in German. The audience applauded her bilingualism.
Then, as Dancer herself was living in Germany through fourth grade, she decided to read from a poem written by Marjorie Adriance, another graduate who was a student in the Hilltowns while Dancer was abroad. The poem was called “Remember When.”
“When Taz used to be on the playground every day, but we weren’t allowed to play with him. When we were allowed to take naps on the most comfortable cots ever. P-A-R-P-PARP assemblies, when we got to sing the PARP song and loved it,” she read. “The eggs we had to take care of, the bridges we built, and, of course, the paper plane competition.” The list went on, ending with “Waiting for the day we could finally call ourselves seniors, and now, not wanting it to end.”
This poem was an appropriate start, Dancer said, “to a speech that’s not mine, but yours.”
Her overall message to her peers: “Have fun. Don’t let growing up make you an adult,” she said. “The greatest mature people are those that never forget what it’s like to be young. So don’t be so serious. A lot of people look back on high school as the best time of their lives. But who says you can’t make what comes next even better?”
She remembered when John DeLong learned the hard way why not to call Mr. Bentley “dude,” when the bros dressed like girls for a day, when Michael Coats wrote an “interesting rap” about John McArdle, and when the fish in the senior lounge was eaten on a dare.
“And oh, how we all loved it when the cell tower went up in the church next to school, and we proceeded to text through every class thereafter,” she told the audience, receiving a wave of laughter.
“Look alive, people,” she concluded. “Go wherever it is you want to be. It’s early enough, and we’re young and free enough to do the things we’ve always wanted to do.”
“We did it”
Co-salutatorian Gabrielle Tubbs stood behind the podium next, thanking the parents and teachers in the room, and congratulating her classmates.
“We did it, guys; we finally made it,” she said. “Other than graduation parties, or the random encounters at some point in the future, today may be the last time we see each other. Please don’t forget the great times we’ve had as a class. Remember when we went potato picking, hearing the various shouts of, ‘potato!’ and seeing pieces of rotten vegetables soar past our heads.”
She reminded friends from creative writing class of Grady Picinich and John DeLong’s “almost kiss,” and Anthony Martin’s obsession with “flexting.”
“Don’t forget the insane ninja battle between John [McArdle] and Chet [Ferriero],” she said. “Well, I don’t see how you could forget, since the video made it to YouTube.” Her classmates laughed in remembrance.
In conclusion, she quoted Confucius, who said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
“Once we receive our diplomas, we are taking that step into the rest of our lives,” Tubbs said. “Everything changes now, and I hope you all lead happy and successful lives.”
“Change the future”
Galgay, the 2010 valedictorian, then took the stage.
He recalled when, in eighth grade, he improperly quoted the song “Closing Time” by Semisonic, and sought to rectify that in his graduation speech.
“There’s a line that goes, ‘Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end,’” he told the audience. “It is the end of one thing, but also the beginning of something else, something entirely new and, hopefully, something great. It’s all up to us now.”
Four years ago, he said, as he and his classmates entered high school, that ‘new beginning’ was simply a variation on what they had just been through: middle school.
“It is awesome to look back on all the great experiences…and all the great relationships of our school years, but we can only reminisce and enjoy those events, not change them,” he said. “We can still change the events of the future. It’s difficult to move past these years, I know. You may feel that many opportunities are closing. But, the truth is, many more are actually opening.”
Like those who spoke before him, he conceded that that the class of 2010 would not be where it is without help, and thanked the parents, teachers, and coaches present on behalf of his classmates.
He also made reference to the class’s ability to work together through difficult situations.
“We already demonstrated our resilience three weeks ago in the way we responded to an incident at our school, coming out of it stronger, turning a poor situation into a very positive note for our class,” he said, referring to the vandalism at the high school that resulted in four seniors being arrested motor oil was spilled on the floors, and school was closed down for a day. “After all, you don’t determine success by how many mistakes you make, but rather, by how you respond to them.”
He then credited his class for being multi-talented, being composed of accomplished athletes, scholars, artists, actors, musicians, writers, and leaders. The question, he said, is what these graduates will now do with those attributes.
“I know we have the creativity,” he said. “I’ve seen what some of these kids can do with their free time.” Laughter sprouted from patches of the crowd.
Of graduating, he concluded, “It’s tough to define, because it’s ultimately a beginning and an end. Two very opposite things, but also tied together. Today, graduation day, is a mix of then and now; of memory, and ambition; of ‘Remember that?’ and ‘Let’s do this’; of ‘I did’ and ‘I will do’ and ‘Can do.’”
The senior choir then performed “In My Life” by The Beatles, and “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi, the finale of which was a group-wide air-guitar solo.
Following on the heels of the choral performance was social studies teacher Thomas Galvin, the 2010 commencement speaker.
“First of all, I grew up in the ’80s, so there’s nothing like a little Bon Jovi to get you fired up,” Galvin began, eliciting laughter from the crowd. But Galvin was upset, he said, when he learned that he was the class’s fifth choice to speak at their graduation.
“Turns out Elliot Spitzer, Tiger Woods, Joe Bruno, and the guy from BP Oil were all busy today,” he said. More laughter filled the venue.
He then listed the first lesson of his speech: “Life is all about opportunity; make the most of it.”
He reminded students that high school would be the easiest time of their lives, but then poked fun at their inability to play a board game about electing presidents in government class.
“It was like we were doing community service to clean the kindergarten toilets, for God’s sake,” he said. “You are finally moments away from trading gym-class dodgeball, chicken-nugget Wednesdays, and videogames in the senior lounge for the real world. I know Mike warned me not to say ‘It’s over’ but, Mike, part of it is.”
This brought him to his second lesson: Cherish what you have.
He recalled when Paolo Audino drove him “particularly crazy” one day in class. When Audino was not paying attention, Galvin decided to startle him by throwing a rubber ball at the door.
“Whipping the ball towards the door, I almost lost my grip, and almost pegged him in the head, nearly ending my new teaching career,” he said, leading him to his third lesson: Think before you act.
He remembers the T-Rex vs. flamingo debate, the argument on whether ninjas or pirates were tougher, and the gold glitter pig (for the Participation in Government class) that was a gift from Keith Newcomb. “That warms my heart,” he said.
Galvin then told the parents of Michael Galgay that he was going to serve them child-support papers, given how much time Galgay had spent in his classroom.
Galvin also gave a general compliment to the students on their athleticism, particularly that of DePeaux, the class president, whom he coached in varsity girls’ basketball.
“She led a group of underclassmen to a 17-4 record, a [Western Athletic Conference] title, a Class C championship game, and in doing this Kristin provided us with the next lesson of the day: Even when it seems like you’re alone in the world, things always have a way of working themselves out,” he said.
In closing, Galvin had one final lesson for the graduates, but not before complimenting them on how they handled administrative changes, including a new secondary principal and dean, as well as helping to create a new senior lounge in the absence of off-campus privileges.
“You used our lack of funds and aging facilities to prove that schools are not about the walls, but the quality of the people in them,” Galvin told the graduates. “The recent bad publicity only brought you closer as a class, as you proved to the television cameras that there are many great kids in Berne.”