But to the great number of parents, friends and teachers in attendance, the procession was a welcomed event, and a long time in coming. Not just through Edwin Elgar’s old chestnut, but after nine years spent preparing for this moment... “their” kids are moving on to high school.
And after “graduates” Steven Branche and Julia Cohen did the obligatory Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem, respectively, that idea of collective support was the theme of the two principle speakers: New Paltz Superintendent of Schools Maria Rice and Wiesenthal.
Rice, who was presented with an eighth-grade yearbook, told the students in a short speech that “they didn’t do this alone. You had a lot of support from your parents, grandparents and teachers,” and to make the best of that support, to “make a difference in the world.” In the end she offered a simple “best wishes to your future.”
Wiesenthal, more of a day-to-day presence throughout the kids’ three years at the middle school, opened his remarks by saying that he wanted to give his students “a message that will stick with you, like oatmeal. Like parents always say about oatmeal -- that it sticks with you,” and then, after some laughter from the standing-room-only crowd in attendance, zeroed in on the notion of decision-making as a life-defining ritual. A series of moments that are unavoidable and that must be decided on wisely.
“Day-to-day decision-making is a key life skill,” said Wiesenthal, “and it is easy to make good decisions during good times -- that’s when we connect the most to our surroundings -- but in difficult times, when it’s harder to get some support, it’s then that we rely on our upbringing, ourselves, our parents and some luck to not make a bad decision. A bad decision can lead to bad things.” In referencing that idea, Wiesenthal used an analogy of a millionaire offering unlimited amounts of sustenance to anyone who would swim through his large pool full of alligators. “Jim volunteered,” continued Wiesenthal, “and struggled mightily through the alligators to the other side of the pool. He was relieved, but his only question when he came out was: ‘I want to know who pushed me into the pool?’”
“So it is about courage in facing life’s big issues, however reluctantly we do make them,” added Wiesenthal. He then went through the years highlighting the trips, plays, community service, sports, clubs and all the rest that made up the middle school experiences of these graduates. “You’ll get to use what you’ve learned here and I know that you leave here as confident individuals. I wish you luck!”
In a brief listing of academic awards, the top award for Overall Achievement went to Katherine Curtis and Kenrick Cai, with other high academic awards going to Ruby Bard and Jimmy McColgan in English; Louis Navarro and Nate McPherson in math; Ariel Pazer in science; Juna Keehn in biology; Michele Amado and Georjon Tanzi in social studies; and Tim Otis in Spanish.
The ceremony ended with the one-by-one presentation of Moving Up Certificates by Rice, Wiesenthal and assistant middle school principal Anthony Tantillo. The middle school band, under the long-time direction of Charlie Seymour, then led the new “grads” out of middle school and off on their first steps to high school -- with bigger life-choices to be faced and good decisions around them to be made.