Students remember community at graduation

B y Derek Liebig

They may be moving on, but it’s clear they won’t forget the community where they’re from.

That was the message given to 52 students at Whitehall Central School as they received their high school diplomas at commencement ceremonies in the auditorium on Friday evening, Jun 25.

“You’ll hear a lot about community here. This community rallies together through joy and sadness,” high school Principal Kelly McHugh told a capacity crowd of students, family members and peers. “This is a community that loves its children.”

Commencement speaker and social studies teacher Brad Countermine encouraged students to remember that the journey and the people they meet along the way are just as important as the final destination.

And from the valedictorian and salutatorian address, to the song selection by the high school chorus, it appeared that message wasn’t lost on anyone. 

A small group of students, consisting of senior members of the high school chorus, sang “For Good” by Wicked, summing up perfectly how they felt:

“It may well be, that we will never meet again in this lifetime. So let me say before we part, so much of me is made from what I learned from you. You’ll be with me like a handprint on my heart, and now whatever way our stories end; I know you have re-written mine, by being my friend.”

Valedictorian Kelsie Benjamin was choked up with emotions as she addressed her classmates, recalling the memories and relationships she had forged along the way and the traits that helped her and her fellow peers get there.  

“How special it is to be from a small community,” she said. “Perseverance has been part of our life since pre-school. The power of perseverance has gotten us here today and will help us in the future.”

Salutatorian Kaitlyn Fiorini took time to thank the people who helped her succeed during high school.

“On behalf of the senior class I want to thank the teachers and the administration for giving us the opportunity to succeed. Our small size doesn’t hinder what we can achieve,” she said. “We’re capable of achieving amazing things, now let’s embrace that.”

Students entered the auditorium in pairs —  boys dressed in the maroon, girls in white — as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and friends gave them a standing ovation.

After class president Katherine Paddock led the crowd in the pledge of allegiance, students received a welcome surprise.

McHugh came to the lectern and announced they were shaking up the program as she welcomed Countermine to the stage.

Countermine said he offered to be the commencement speaker after discovering no other speaker had come forward.

He compared high school to a Driver’s Education Course where at first students fumble and make mistakes but by the end are fully capable drivers and independent.

He told students they have their community, their teachers and themselves to thank and in the words of Buzz Lightyear have the potential to go “to infinity and beyond.”

Later in the evening, McHugh recognized the top 10 graduates and presented awards to 38 of the graduates, many receiving multiple honors.

Of the 52 students, 42 received Regents diplomas, 15 with advanced designation and three of those with honors.

A number also received certificates from various vocational programs.

After presenting awards, school board president Mark DeLuca handed students their diplomas.

After receiving his, Jim “Jimbo” Varney gave McHugh a giant bear hug, showing some of the spirit McHugh said was indicative of the class.

“They have been a very warm and friendly class. And they are a lot of fun,” she said. “They are all very kind to each other and I can sincerely say I will miss them.”

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