When U.S. Air Force Technical Sergeant Michael Greenwood graduated from Whitehall High School in 1998 he never thought he’d return years later to address the Class of 2013. At the time, he didn’t even know what he’d be doing that fall.
“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t prepare and I didn’t care,” Greenwood said. “I was terrified.”
After two years at Adirondack Community College (now SUNY Adirondack), Greenwood had a degree but still wasn’t sure of what he wanted to do. After some thought, he decided to join the Air Force.
Thirteen years later Greenwood is in the midst of his third re-enlistment and has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
“I finally got the job I wanted. There are obstacles and decisions you have to make in life. You have to figure out what you want to be and define yourselves,” Greenwood said.
“Life is going to throw you some curve balls but you have to step up the plate and if you get a hit, run and don’t stop. If you don’t, brush yourself off and try again.”
His words were just some of the advice given to the group of 59 graduates during Friday’s commencement ceremonies.
Salutatorian Jordan Eggleston echoed the works of Yogi Berra during his address, telling his fellow graduates “if you don’t know where you are going you might end up someplace else.”
He also detailed some of the lesson he’s learned in school such as not “sweating the small stuff, expectations do not equal reality, someone will always know more than you do and apparently it’s not a good idea to wear togas to school,” referring to a incident earlier this year in which several students were sent home for doing exactly that.
Eggleston’s quips added some levity to what was a bittersweet moment for a tight-knit group of students.
Most were a bundle of nervous energy before Friday’s ceremony and many of the newly minted graduates embraced one another and shed a few tears as they filtered out of the auditorium with memories of where they’ve been and dreams of where they’ll one day be circulating in their minds.
During her speech, valedictorian Paxton Peterson recalled memories of class trips, homecoming floats and elementary school as tears welled in her eyes.
“The best part about this class is that we’re all one group. In most schools, and even in a few of the grades below, you see a lot of cliques. But not ours. We’ve all been friends and shared a few laughs at one point or another,” she said.
“Although we’ve got a lot of growing and learning to do, we’ve spent some of our most memorable moments together. We’ve had the good and the bad, with the happy and sad.”
The graduates now move onto make their own place in the world. Nearly two thirds of the class will attend a two or four-year college in the fall, four will enter the workforce, four others the military and a handful haven’t yet decided.
John Diekel, one of four students entering the military, received a standing ovation from the crowd after receiving a special honor from Anthony Butler, his recruiting liaison. Diekel, who has already left for basic training, is the first student from Whitehall to ever receive an appointment to the Air Force Academy.
But the students were not the only ones who were honored during Friday’s ceremony.
Retiring teachers Daniel Mulholland, Peggy Sparano and Penny Whiting were all recognized for their contributions to the district as was Superintendent James Watson
“From late-night meetings to sleepless nights, Mr. Watson has always put the students first,” Virginia Rivette, Whitehall Board of Education president said.
Eggleston even poked a little fun at Watson for his reluctance to call snow days, pointing out that the Class of 2013 had been in school 65 days longer than students in neighboring districts.
“Thanks for looking out for us for all those years. Underclassmen, good luck on finding a superintendent that can beat those figures,” joked.
Just before the graduates received their diplomas, Peterson offered up one last line of advice, one that would have been whole-heartedly embraced by Greenwood.
“Personally, I didn’t want to think about the future. I didn’t think I was going to be ready to leave home and take on a whole new lifestyle. But now I am. I believe in myself and everyone person on this stage tonight,” she said.
“I feel very confident in saying that we are ready. We are ready to leave this school, and in some cases, this town, and start fresh. We are ready to use our knowledge and succeed in whatever life throws at us.”