Life lessons at Voorheesville graduation
The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Stars in her eyes: Graduate Samantha Longton sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the June 27 graduation ceremony. The Performing Arts Center was still as Longton’s smooth voice carried the lyrics to the ears of the 87 other graduates, their friends and families, and the Clayton A. Bouton High School teachers and administrators in attendance that evening.
VOORHEESVILLE — Pink lines streaked across the sky as the sun was setting the evening of June 27.
But, though the night was ending, that moment was also the beginning of a new life for many.
Eighty-eight members of the Clayton A. Bouton High School class of 2014 filled the parking lot with friends and family just moments after walking across the stage and receiving their diplomas.
Just a few minutes before, in the final moments together as a class, they stood at their seats on the stage of the Lydia C. Tobler Performing Arts Center with their diplomas in hand and threw their caps up in the air.
Many of the mortarboards were decorated proclaiming “Class of 2014;” others named a destination: University of Buffalo, Rochester Institute of Technology, and Cornell were some of the schools represented.
Many of the more ornately decorated mortarboards, covered in glitter and rhinestones, didn’t fly with their classmates’, but stayed firmly planted on the heads of their decorators.
Rewind further back that evening to see the seniors excitedly milling about the gymnasium in their final minutes as students.
The gym was warm, but that didn’t stop the students from huddling together to take group photos. Some girls kept adjusting their hair and bobby pins under their caps as they hurried between friends. Boys stood in groups, a few of them notably towering over their classmates.
Before the seniors filed into the Performing Arts Center, a slideshow of photos of the senior class as babies, children, and adolescents flicked across a large screen in the front of the auditorium.
Parents clapped and whooped as their children’s photos appeared. Some more amusing baby photos earned laughs from the crowd.
A few moments after the slideshow ended and the screen disappeared, the sound of bagpipes filtered into the auditorium, and audience members craned their necks to get a better look. The Capital Region Celtic Pipe Band members, wearing kilts, walked proudly down the aisle, settling in front of the stage where they finished the processional song.
Almost as soon as necks had realigned themselves, members of the school band began to play “Pomp and Circumstance,” which has been a traditional graduation song since it was first played at such an event at Yale in 1905.
Families and friends of graduates rapidly swiveled in their seats, phones and cameras fixed to the ends of their hands, and clicked photo after photo as the line of students made its way down the aisles and onto the stage.
Each graduate held a yellow flower; many smiled happily as they walked to their seats.
From the front row, a procession of shoes flowed across the carpet: glittering stilettos, Nike basketball shoes, flip-flops, loafers, and high heels of all colors and heights.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung by senior Samantha Longton, who had performed in many plays at Clayton A. Bouton during the last four years.
Longton’s powerful voice centered all the attention on her as she sang, from the first note to the last. As she walked back to her seat on stage, classmates smiled at her; some told her “great job.”
Five students then huddled around the lectern as they gave the class sentiment. Elizabeth Bjork, Kevin Clark, Katherine Collins, Logan Hotaling, and Alexandra Moreau each took turns speaking about their time in the Voorheesville school district, and shared fond memories of their teachers, classmates, field trips, and extracurricular activities on their way to graduating.
They described Voorheesville as a place people could quickly come to know as home, no matter how long they had been there.
After the class sentiment, a group of graduates lined the front of the stage and sang “Seasons of Love,” a popular song from the Broadway hit musical Rent. The piano in front of the stage supplied the notes as the graduates belted out the lyrics, some tapping their feet or swaying lightly along with the music.
Words to live by
The salutatory address was then given by Christian Keenan, whose mortarboard was decorated in puffy paint to depict a pokéball, from the television show and card game Pokémon, which was the center of his speech.
“Pokémon has really taught me that life is a journey,” said Keenan, who was also the president of the class of 2014, and will attend the University of Rochester.
After Keenan’s speech, the student-selected speaker, graduate Morgan Zell, took to the podium.
Zell, an effervescent speaker with a sincere voice and attitude, spoke to the audience and her fellow graduates about her class’s close-knit community, where she knew each classmate personally, and cared about every one of them.
“Undoubtedly, the Voorheesville community has changed my life,” she said.
She fervently told the students to love themselves, love one another, and stay unique.
“We must learn to love every person,” Zell said, “because every person is important in the world.”
As she spoke, Zell looked out into the audience, and back at her classmates, exuding confidence, excitement, and authenticity to her fellow graduates. She emphasized living in the moment and caring for others.
“Let every second of every day be the best time of your life,” she said.
Zell’s bubbly and joyous speech was followed by the down-to-earth valedictory speech given by Julia Suozzo, who is going to Harvard.
Suozzo started with saying that everyone’s experience of high school is unique to him or her.
“Who am I to tell you how to live your life?” she asked.
Her speech centered on thanking those around her, describing the skills high school taught her, and congratulating her classmates on this accomplishment.
Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder then gave her remarks to the audience, saying, “These graduates walked in as boys and girls, and will walk out as men and women.”
She quoted from poet e e cummings, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
Thayer Snyder urged the graduates to enjoy the world around them and make choices to enhance their lives.
“You will be amazed how intelligent your parents become when you’re between the ages of 18 and 22,” Thayer Snyder said, paraphrasing Mark Twain, which elicited laughs from parents in the crowd.
Her short speech was followed up by the guest speaker for this year’s graduation, David Lawrence. Lawrence teaches global history and college-level economics, and he also coaches several sports at Clayton A. Bouton High School, including modified soccer.
“I’ve always had a connection with this class,” he said, noting that he began teaching in Voorheesville the same year that group of students was in its first year of middle school.
Lawrence’s speech emphasized the need to be a good person in a world that judges people based on tests, evaluations, and applications.
“Maybe a good person is something we take for granted,” he said.
He advised everyone to treat other people with common courtesy, like opening a door for someone or saying “hello” to a stranger on the sidewalk.
“Failure is a part of life,” Lawrence said. “Why not strive for something you can accomplish every day?”
Lawrence was also involved with an extracurricular group at Clayton A. Bouton called Natural Helpers. He described an exercise he did with the group where all of them tied strings around their wrists; he said he wanted to do something similar at graduation, but figured string would get messy.
He then told them he came up with an alternative, and asked the graduates to look under their chairs.
Taped underneath the seat of each of the 88 Clayton A. Bouton High School graduates, was a bracelet with a quote from his speech on it.
“We all need to be reminded of what’s important,” Lawrence said.
“Remember to be good people. In other words, remember to be yourselves.”