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Guilderland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, July 7, 2011
At Guilderland, grads and principal say farewell
By Zach Simeone
GUILDERLAND Members of Guilderland’s Class of 2011 threw their caps into the air on June 25, and they were accompanied by retiring Principal Brian McCann in their big ‘goodbye’ to high school.
The graduates filled row after row of chairs on the floor of the SEFCU Arena at the University at Albany, as the school band played through the music of John Williams, and the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance.” Senior Hannah Miele beamed as she approached the podium and sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” which she belted across the arena to a wave of applause.
Superintendent Marie Wiles, marking her first Guilderland graduation, congratulated the 487 young men and women moving on to the next stages in their lives. This transition, she said, is an exciting, but scary time.
“I’m guessing we’re feeling a lot of emotions,” Wiles told the field of grads. But, she urged them to have courage, and went on to recount the error last year by a baseball umpire as an allegory for learning to admit when you make mistakes, and move on.
On June 2, 2010, Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was primed to become the third pitcher within a month to throw a perfect game and the 21st ever. But umpire Jim Joyce’s blunder of calling Jason Donald safe at first base denied Galaragga’s entry into the book of perfect games.
However, it’s what came next that mattered most, Wiles said: The next day, Joyce approached Galarraga on the mound, shook his hand, and handed him the lineup card for the impending game.
“In spite of a crushing disappointment, and anger and frustration all around him, Armando Galarraga went back to the mound,” Wiles said.
Guilderland does not name a valedictorian and salutatorian. Rather, the highest honors graduates sit on the stage and addresses are given by students who have submitted speeches for selection.
Elisabeth Gioia took the podium to welcome her fellow graduates, urging them to appreciate the role of the “strong but simple” support systems that their families played throughout school, and echoing Wiles’s statements about learning how to move on.
“On this day, we celebrate the past and look forward to the new beginnings we are about to face,” Gioia told her class. “All we can do is live life to its full potential.”
Upon taking the stage next, class co-president Alexandra Martini asked her classmates to look around them.
“Who was your first friend?” she asked. “Look at how much they have grown, not only in height, but also in character.”
She looked around and saw musicians, actors, athletes, and math Olympians.
“We are so close to freedom, but what does this freedom entail?” she asked her friends. “As we become independent, we will take these moments that have inspired us to be who we are, and use them.”
She remembers the big game against Shenendehowa, and the awards her classmates won at the National Heritage Music Festival “It’s in these moments that our hard work pays off,” said Martini.
“We have the potential to do so much,” she said. “Maybe success is not just the physical outcome. Maybe it’s the journey we take to get there.”
She concluded her speech with a challenge for the class of 2011: “Dream big,” Martini said, “because the sky’s the limit.”
Carli Barbarotto and Rachel Weston shared the podium for the class message, bouncing back and forth with remembrances of Trick-or-Treat Street, the rap contest, the senior trip to Six Flags, wanting to do nothing besides drive after getting their licenses, and the morning announcements “Good morning, Guilderland students,” they said in booming low voices, which elicited roaring laughter from the class.
Second to none
Brian McCann addressed the Class of 2011 at his 20th and final GHS graduation he had been the school’s principal the last two years, after 18 years as assistant principal.
“From the classroom, to the athletic fields, to the auditorium stage, Guilderland students’ achievements are second to none,” McCann assured the crowd. One last time, he thanked the students who had perfect attendance.
“What makes this opportunity such a unique undertaking is the duality of the nature of standing before you as a principal, wanting to impart to you words of wisdom, but feeling the compulsion that every parent sitting here feels and that is wanting to say so much more,” McCann said. “Believe me, guys, all of the adults in your life want so much to let you know how much we care, how much good we want for you, and how much we wish we could impart to you the wisdom that comes from having already gone through the journey on which you are all about to embark.”
No matter what the future may hold, we should never undermine the experience of our elders, he went on.
“My dad always used to say, you may just be smarter than me, but I know a lot more than you,” McCann said. “Your parents are not trying to butt into your lives because they have nothing better to do. Holding you accountable is not a controlling thing; it’s a loving thing.”
What is most important, he said, is that we strive to leave the world a better place than it was when we got here. And, in closing, he told the grads, “Let them shoot.”
“Life is going to come at you in ways you can’t believe,” he said. “Sometimes, you will find yourself in a situation when people try to knock you down. People who don’t know anything about you…Stand tall, and let them shoot.”
McCann concluded his final graduation address with one message: “It’s never too late to be what you want to be.”
Senior James Alexander Sands introduced this year’s commencement speaker, 31-year Secret Service veteran Barbara Riggs. She grew up in Guilderland where her mother taught at Westmere Elementary and Farnsworth Middle School; her father was a lawyer.
“Take a deep breath and absorb this moment in time,” Riggs said. “This is the day when your past, your experience, and the sum of who you are intersect with your wide-open future a future with endless possibilities.”
Among the first 10 women to enter the Secret Service, Riggs became the agency’s second in commend in 2004, making her the highest-ranking woman in law enforcement within the Department of Homeland Security.
Riggs told The Enterprise in 2004 that she attributes her success to the fact that her parents gave her and her siblings “a lot of independence.” When she was 17, she got a crash course in appreciating other cultures when she traveled South America by herself; she impressed upon the Guilderland grads the importance of cultural exploration this weekend.
Riggs graduated from St. Agnes School in Loudonville, and went on to Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences, majoring in International Studies and Spanish. During her Constitutional law class as an undergrad, she sat next to a Secret Service agent who was getting a master’s degree in public administration. She was recruited in her junior year, joining the agency in 1975. During her tenure as an agent, she protected presidents Gerald Ford; Jimmy Carter; Ronald Reagan; George H.W. Bush; Bill Clinton; and George W. Bush.
She told the crowd that, while in the Secret Service, she saw human nature at its finest. Drawing on her memories of being an agent, she urged the students to take risks.
“Because I was loyal to myself, I enjoyed a successful career,” Riggs told the graduates, imploring that they remain optimistic.
Riggs closed with a story Ronald Reagan was fond of telling. As a Secret Service agent, Riggs used to ride with Reagan at his Rancho del Cielo in California. He rode every day while at the ranch, she said, and three days a week when in Washington. Riggs rode with him from 1981 to 1986.
Riggs said of the duty in 1997, “You’re in a protective mode, but more relaxed than at official functions in the White House…He was conversational,” she said of Reagan.
One of his favorite stories was about two boys, one an incurable pessimist, and the other an equally incurable optimist. They were taken by their parents to a psychologist for treatment.
The pessimist was placed in a room full of shiny new toys, but cried and did not play with them for fear they would break.
The optimist was placed in a room full of horse manure. He cheerfully shoveled, digging and digging, thinking, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere.”
Riggs concluded by telling the graduates, “Go find that pony.”