Graduation day at York Central School presented a mix of emotions as a year of challenges came to its conclusion Saturday afternoon on the school’s main athletic field.
Speeches remembered beloved teacher and coach Dennis Bzduch and the uncertainty of the school year brought on by the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19. But ultimately the school year ended on a positive note, reflected through the strength and spirit of the Class of 2020.
“This year has taught me that when life doesn’t follow you plan and it presents challenges, you respond with grit and you respond with grace,” High School Principal Lindsey Peet told the Class of 2020 in her June 27 remarks. “Look to your support system. Lean on friends, community, look for help and keep showing up.”
She said students will look back on 2020 as a stepping stone that helped them reach great heights.
“I watched you support each other and the adults around you through the loss of a beloved teacher and then later through the pandemic,” Peet said. “You picked each other up, offering a hug, a smirk and a laugh.”
The student speeches offered a little of all of that.
York Central School Valedictorian Charlessa Christiano began her speech by reaching under the podium Saturday afternoon and pulled out six movie cases. The movies, she said, provided students with all they needed to know to navigate life.
She then proceeded to go through each movie – a mix range of comedy, drama and action - and share the lessons of each.
From “Iron Man,” the superhero film that launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Charlessa said Tony Stark taught the seniors “to be unapologetically ourselves,” which “can lead to great outcomes.”
“Just keep swimming,” was the mantra of Dorey, the ditzy blue tang of “Finding Nemo.”
“We have to keep moving,” Charlessa told her classmates, “even if we don’t know what comes next.”
The lesson of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” was to “not take it all too seriously,” while “The Sandlot” revealed that people need someone who they can count on.
“We aren’t meant to go through this life alone,” said Charlessa, who will next study nursing at Roberts Wesleyan College. “I think that the quarantine has taught us that. It has taught us the importance of friendships and being able to count on someone.”
She also shared lessons from “Goonies” and “A Few Good Men,” relaying the films’ famous lines – “Goonies never say die” and “You can’t handle the truth,” the latter with a deep growl.
“We must have a never-say-die-attitude. We must not give up or get discouraged,” she said, telling her classmates that when the test gets hard, they must stay grounded and focus.
As for handling the truth, she said they must “be willing to hear the truth. We have to hear the truth and have to be able to handle it , too.
“If we don’t have one person in our life telling us the truth, aren’t we destined for failure?” she asked.
Charlessa ended her speech with a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, expressing frustration at how the school year ended, but also revealing how much the Class of 2020 learned.
“What we found out, is that each one of us was lucky enough to know Mr. Bzduch, have an OM team that would’ve gone to worlds seven times, had a unique and memorable drive-through senior banquet, a principal and staff that never stopped working for us, and a community who did everything possible to celebrate our senior year,” she said.
Shane Bryan, York’s salutatorian, told his classmates that the world was better off for having them in it, and know it was their opportunity to make the world a better place.
“We can change the world. We can achieve greatness,” said Shane, who will study molecular biology at the University of Rochester. “You are all in control of your lives now. I hope you never forget what you are truly capable of doing.”
The commencement address was delivered by Tyler Fuller, a 2014 York Central grad, who is a third-year medical student at SUNY Upstate Medical University, who hopes to return to start a family practice in York.
Fuller told the class of 2020, “in no way are you done defining yourself. You’re not done acquiring knowledge. You’re not done growing.”
He shared five pieces of advice with the class: learn every day, don’t be afraid to change your opinion when presented with new evidence, put in the hard work now so you can be happy later – which includes figuring out what makes you happy (for Fuller, it was continuing his education to become a doctor), use support when you need it and don’t be afraid to reach out for help, and to strive for perfection.
“It isn’t reasonable to achieve perfection,” he said, “but it is reasonable to strive. With everything you do, try to do your best.”