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We Did It

Graduates emerge ready to take on life and change the world

by Heather Plonchak
July 06, 2010 04:55 PM | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As 229 students waited patiently on the Saugerties High School front lawn for their diplomas, the simultaneous feelings of profound nostalgia and giddy anticipation must have been overwhelming. Some came and went over the years, but many had been together 12 years, since they entered kindergarten together in 1997, and having to go to school each day in their hometown is all they’ve ever known. As rites of passage go, there’s nothing else in modern life that approaches the sense of accomplishment and “we’re-in-this-together” feeling of community at a high school graduation.

For class of 2010 social director Kaitlin Toporowski, that feeling of community runs deep. Her theme was “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child.” She said the strong presence of volunteer community groups like the Kiwanis, Elks and Lions clubs in Saugerties make it a supportive place to grow up, and the faculty, staff, club advisors and coaches are dedicated to their work.

“All of these things have shown me that Saugerties is a cradle,” said Toporowski. “It is a safe haven to grow up in. Our parents, the parents of our friends, our older siblings who we had to look up to, and the teachers who took an interest in us have made it that way…The most fitting thing that I can think to say on graduation day is thank you to the people who helped us, this year’s graduates, to reach this point. We truly could not have done it without you.”

Valedictorian Marilyn Chu spoke about her first day of kindergarten. She arrived at Riccardi Elementary School wearing a sign that said, “Hi. My name is Marilyn Chu and I do not speak English.” Chu says she was surprised to find she was the only student wearing such a sign, though it made little difference since her classmates were not yet able to read. She’s come a long way, and she attributed her success to her teachers. “Thank you for being there for me from the very beginning, when I could not even speak English,” said Chu.

Salutatorian Chelsea Defino said graduation was bittersweet. Noting the unlikelihood the class would ever be reunited in its entirety, Defino urged her classmates to remember the personal connections they made in school because “success is measured by the depth of human connections we make in our lifetimes.”

Her speech also cast a forward glance. “We have the potential to fulfill all of our dreams, and make our visions reality,” she said. “We are the future.”

Class president Vito Massa spoke about an article he read in the New York Times Magazine which he said portrayed his generation unfavorably – perhaps the laziest to date, a generation of basket cases with goldfish-like attention spans brought about by constant exposure to technology and inability to accept criticism in the workplace. Massa said the tone of the article suggested that anyone born between 1982 and 2002 is doomed.

“Apparently, our generation is way too lazy to be doing anything,” he said.

Massa said the article implied that members of this millennial generation should not bother trying to get a job, live with their parents forever, forget about their dreams, and ignore their values.

“However, we are a new generation,” said Massa. “Our iPods and egos give us the advantage of technology and confidence. Those things combined with our incredible passion for life and our never-failing hope for the future, makes us the only generation finally ready to take the big steps and make big moves...We are the future. As long as we remember that, and we don’t let other people drag us down, we will change the world.”

Superintendent Seth Turner urged the class to do just that.

“Carpe Diem,” said the superintendent. “Seize the day! Students, make your lives extraordinary.”

The ceremony included a remembrance of three students who passed away in the last school year: Olivia Belfiglio, Shawn Shields, and most recently, Jason Sheehan. “Celebration and happiness go along with other things that happen in life,” said principal Tim Price. “We must remember how much life has to be cherished, and realize how lucky we are.”

Price also spoke of Carlene Hennigan, who would have been a member of the graduating class of 2010. Hennigan lost her life in a car accident at the age of six.

Superintendent Turner also called for a moment of silence to recognize junior high school secretary Laura Tiano, who passed away earlier this year.
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