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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, July 7, 2011

At BKW commencement
Tom Galvin tells grads they are ‘truly good kids with unique talents’

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

The Class of 2011 came into seventh grade with a label, said the commencement speaker, Thomas Galvin, at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo graduation ceremony held on June 25 at The Egg in Albany.

It was called the “wait till you get this group” class, said Galvin, a social studies teacher who had a friendly style as he teased many of the 87 graduates, recalling incidents from their years at Berne-Knox-Westerlo.

Galvin remembered three boxes that members of the class, as seventh-graders, presented him on his birthday. They made him guess what was in a box labeled with a florist’s name; he guessed flowers. They made him guess what was in a box that said “Russell Stover.” He guessed chocolates. Both times, he was right.

And finally, they made him guess what was in the carton Tuesday Bishop handed him. The carton said “Wine Warehouse.” As Galvin was preparing to tell the students he didn’t think it would be appropriate for him to accept wine, Bishop asked, “What do you think it is?”

Galvin sampled the liquid, oozing out of the box, that had dripped on his fingers, and guessed wine.

“No, I got you a kitten,” said Bishop.

The crowd roared.

On a more serious note, Galvin described members of the class as “truly good kids with unique talents.”

He went on to cite “ridiculous rumors our school is a low-performing school.” But Galvin said that was not true and, to prove it, he reeled off a list of colleges that members of the class would be attending in the fall, including the Albany College of Pharmacy, RPI, and the Culinary Institute of America.

The loudest applause came when he named students joining the Marine Corps and the Army.

The threads of a close-knit community were woven throughout the ceremony.

The program had started at 10:30 a.m. with a half-hour video, produced by Jeff Harvey and Brendan Hogan, that paired nostalgic music with pictures of the graduates. Their families and friends watched — some teary-eyed, others cheering — as the graduates, wearing maroon caps and gowns, stood in the back of the plush auditorium.

Snapshots pictured members of the Class of 2011 as kids — in a bowling alley, at a birthday party, playing sports.

“These are the precious times we’ll hold in our hearts forever,” sang the soundtrack.

The montage of old-style snapshots was replaced with full-screen pictures of the grads — in the halls of their school, dressed for their prom, eating lunch in the cafeteria.

“We bleed maroon and gold,” said a sign, referring to the school colors.

The king and queen danced at their prom as the soundtrack sang, “We’ve been conditioned to not make mistakes but I cannot live that way.”

The grads as athletes — shooting baskets, jumping hurdles, pitching softball — were followed by the grads signing yearbooks during a picnic in the park. “We remember all the times we had together,” sang the soundtrack.

Finally, a portrait of each of the 87 graduates flashed on the screen, as the soundtrack sang, “I will remember you. Will you remember me?”

Many of the current portraits were paired with photos of the graduates as kids — one in a metal bathtub with a yellow ducky, another all dressed up in front of a Christmas tree, and yet another sitting on a toilet while wearing a cowboy hat.

“It’s something unpredictable,” sang the soundtrack, “but in the end it’s right. I hope you had the time of your life.”

After the video, the Senior High Band played “Pomp and Circumstance” as the seniors walked to the stage at the front of the auditorium. Before taking their seats, they posed, in pairs, on the apron of the stage as cameras flashed across the darkened auditorium.

Following the pledge to the flag and the singing of the national anthem, Maureen Sikule, the president of the school board, welcomed the crowd.  She said that being at commencement was the most gratifying part of being on the school board.

“The successes of the past indicate that this class will accomplish a great deal in the future….You should be proud of yourselves,” said Sikule.

A trip down
Memory Lane

Marian Bates, the class president, spoke next. A petit young woman, just her eyes were visible above the tall lectern. Bates quoted from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind, and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor.”

Bates spoke of the challenges her classmates had taken on, from taking advanced placement, college-level courses to playing sports. She said the class was filled with “multi-talented people,” from student senators to artists.

“In elementary school, we were just going through the motions,” she said, as no one had realized their potential.

Bates lauded the “close-knit community” as she remembered elementary-school experiences ranging “huge chessboard pieces in our class” to PARP — Parents As Reading Partners.

The big transition to middle school, she said, meant “going across the parking lot to high school.” She recalled the “Nerd Herd” in middle school, the Invention Convention, and the class trip to the Great Escape.

In recent times, as the school has been under re-construction, Bates said, “We all ended up bonding as we griped” about walking outside. The recent class trip to the Jersey shore was also a bonding experience.

Bates told her classmates not to be afraid to take chance. “Fall down, make a mess,” she said.

She advised that the way opportunities are used determines success.

“Always push yourself to your highest potential,” said Bates. “Never settle for anything less.”

Taking the plunge

The salutatorian, Marion White, asked those listening to her speech to close their eyes. She then took the crowd to the beach, her words heightened by sound effects.

White worked with Cotton Hill to get the professional sound effects she wanted to intersperse her speech. She had to take her case to the school board in order to get permission to use the special effects.

Seagulls called as White told the crowd, “You’re resting on a straw beach chair, a comfortable one, drinking a cool, refreshing beverage.”

The slurping noise that followed elicited chuckles.

“You’re enjoying yourself and life is easy….Everything’s relaxing, like our school years have been at BKW.”

The sound of a helicopter was heard as she went on, “All of a sudden, on the horizon, a helicopter appears. There is a rope hanging from this helicopter and it picks you up, brings you out to sea, and drops you in the ocean.”

The sound of a scream and a splash followed as White likened this to “plunging into the real world.”

“As we graduate, we are dropped into the ocean, and each of us chooses a different method…to travel back to shore,” she said. Party sounds accompanied those who chose a cruise ship. Others choose a little raft, White said, “while most people choose a decent row boat.”

The Jaws theme song sounded as White described some of the obstacles of getting back to shore. Besides sharks, there could be waves or seaweed.

“Our parents, teachers, and peers provided us with the rope, tackles, and materials we needed,” said White.

“A wise person once said, ‘The tassel was worth the hassle,’” concluded White. “I believe that the hassle was worth the tassel. As we go through many different hassles in life, I’ll be proud to tell people that I was a part of the Class of 2011 because we persevere.”

“Dream big”

 “Today we are here with the people who care about us,” said Kathryn Forti, the valedictorian. “We will always be the BKW Class of 2011…but just give us a few years,” she said, naming some of the careers classmates may pursue — veterinary medicine, engineering, teaching, construction work, military leadership, “and maybe moms and dads, too.”

Forti went on, “All of us are going to succeed in what we do because we are ready for it.” She went on to quote Benjamin Franklin: “We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

Forti advised staying humble while remembering “our pride.” She went on, “We have so much to live for…It’s a waste if we don’t do all we can with our lives.”

She also urged her classmates to “make real mistakes.” She advised the younger siblings in the crowd that the effort they put into their schoolwork would help them.

“So, graduates, look to the future,” urged Forti. “Have some goals in mind, but don’t be disappointed if they don’t work out.” She also urged her classmates to “dream big.”

Forti concluded, “Here, today, we are taking our last steps together as a class. Think of who you were meant to be and be it.”

When the warm applause subsided, the Senior Choir sang Bill Withers’s “Lean on Me.” Tiara Conklin belted out a rousing and flawless solo as many in the crowd clapped in rhythm. Some even sang along: “I just might have a problem that you’ll understand. We all need somebody to lean on. Lean on me when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend; I’ll help you carry on….”

“Remember when…”

Galvin spoke next, peppering his patter with reminiscences. This is the second year in a row that the popular social studies teacher has been chosen by the graduating class to give the commencement address.

Galvin told the crowd that one of his favorite parts of the yearbook is the “I remember when” section. This year’s book, Galvin said, had an entry that said, “I remember when I passed gas during the Pledge in fifth grade and blamed Chris who cried.”

Calling it a “Dr. Phil moment,” Galvin asked who had done that. When one of the graduates confessed, Galvin told her to apologize to Chris, joking that he had seen Chris crying during the Pledge earlier in the commencement ceremony.

Galvin then launched into his own list of memories. “I remember when I bullied Sam Harvey into playing basketball,” he said, which worked out well for her.

He also said he remembered “when Steve and Brittany began dating,” which Galvin said seemed as long as he’s been married.

He remembered, too, among other things, when David Crevetas brought “a little green iPod to class” and when Brandon Galgay “wore the same shorts for three days straight” although Galgay said he had two pairs that were the same.

After the hilarity, Galvin closed his list with a solemn thought: “I remember Ryan Slingerland…always seemed to have that mischievous grin….”

Slingerland was killed on Oct. 1, 2008 in a car accident; he was a 16-year-old sophomore at BKW known for his kindness and his artistic ability.

“He was taken far too young,” said Galvin, “and is missed by me and his classmates every day.”

Galvin concluded, “Remember what you learned at BKW…Remember where you come from…It may be small…but it’s home.”

He concluded with a quote, which he noted wasn’t from a typical source for graduation speeches; it was from Jeff Foxworthy, the comedian: “High school is a lot like toilet paper — you only miss it when it’s gone.”

After the laughter and applause subsided, Principal Thomas McGurl handed out awards, listed elsewhere in this edition. One of the awards, in memory of Eileen Hitter, the late elementary school librarian, was presented by her sister, Joan Baron, who said, “She lost her fight with cancer 10 years ago…Mrs. Hitter read everything.” The award went to Mary Viscio, “a student who also has a love for literature” and has worked as a library volunteer, Baron said.

After the many awards were presented, Superintendent Paul Dorward stepped to the lectern for, as he put it, “the moment we’ve all waited for.” Dorward read the names of the graduates as members of the school board handed out the diplomas.

Once all of the graduates had their diplomas in hand, Dorward formally presented them to the crowd. He then instructed them to turn their tassles. Many mortarboards flew in the air as the crowd clapped loud and long.

Outside the theater, 7-year-old Rosita Guerra, wearing a pretty party dress, waited with an armful of red roses for her sister, Marisa Henkin, to emerge from the auditorium. She was swallowed up in a sea of hugs and handshakes, tears and laughter. The Class of 2011 had taken the plunge.

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