Graduation ceremonies took center stages in Livingston County this past weekend as hundreds of students received their high school diplomas. Below are scenes from a selection of graduation ceremonies from across the county.
In Avon, the 84 members of the class of 2021 assembled on the district’s football field Saturday as friends and family watched in the nearby stands.
Paige Phillips, salutatorian for the class of 2021, urged her fellow alumni to cherish “the little things” from their time at Avon, the small moments that “brought us laughter and community.”
“The ones that stick out are not necessarily the most remarkable, but are the most impactful,” said Phillips, who’s planning to study business at Clemson University in the fall. “Breaking beakers in chemistry, going to Mr. Vergo’s morning review sessions, filing a new broadcast for Spanish and watching silly performances at tails and tea leaves, to name a few.”
Valedictorian Bridget Hayes praised the unique offerings that Avon, as a smaller school, offers its students.
“A smaller class size doesn’t just allow us to participate more, but also gives us the opportunity to make lasting personal connections with classmates and teachers,” said Hayes, who plans on studying neuroscience and behavior at the University of Notre Dame.
Hayes said many of those lasting connections have been made over the past two years which, she confessed, “were certainly not what we envisioned our last years of high school looking like.”
“But the unique challenges that we have faced and overcome have allowed us to grow as a class and as people,” she said. “Many of the opportunities we had this year to make new friendships and grow as a class would not have been possible if we had had a normal school year.”
Members of the class of 2021 took to the stands of the district’s football field Thursday as friends and family watched from the field.
Salutatorian Abbey Young centered her remarks on that stolid staple of high school English classes: “The Great Gatsby.”
When Young read the story, she was challenged with the question: Why was Gatsby great? She came to realize that Gatsby didn’t start out great, but grew to greatness, his ascent made possible with every seemingly small experience he encountered during the course of his journey.
For Young and her fellow students, high school took a similar course.
“We began to face more challenges as we continued on in high school, and we even faced unexpected challenges. Not only did we have to face the normal challenges in high school, but we had to face high school during a worldwide pandemic,” she said. “…Looking back, we may not have had an elaborate beginning to our story, and that’s OK. But this year, your story had some big events. We faced a lot of conflict, but we have finally reached the resolution to our high school careers. Like Gatsby, we will become a little bit greater as our story continues on.”
During her speech, Valedictorian Valkyrie Gibson explained to the listening crowd the Japanese legend that whoever folds 1,000 paper cranes will have a wish granted. She told them how, over the course of her high school career, she’d folded 999 paper cranes. After folding her 1,000th crane as she was delivering her speech and, according to the Japanese legend, securing herself one wish, Gibson instead decided to share it with her classmates.
“I stand here before you today, folding this last paper crane, wishing my dream comes true, that all our dreams come true,” she said. “It could take 1,000 years or 1,000 wishes. But we’ll never get there unless we put in the work, accept each helping hand and finish folding all 1,000 paper cranes.”
Fifty one students participated in Saturday’s graduation ceremony in the district’s parking lot. As it did in 2020, WGSU, SUNY Geneseo’s radio station, carried the ceremony live.
Salutatorian Jacob French urged his fellow students to live in the present and savor their upcoming journeys instead of focusing too intently on their destinations.
To illustrate his point, French recounted a 32-mile backpacking trip he took in New Mexico a few summers ago.
“At first, I was constantly trying to figure out how many miles and days we had left until we made it back to base camp. Before I knew it though, we had made it to the last couple of days of the trek and I began to reflect over the trip so far,” said French, who will study film production at Rochester Institute of Technology in the fall. “All of the challenges I’d overcome and all of the fun I’d had seemed to blur together even though it had only happened days ago. I had been so wrapped up in where we were going, that I didn’t take a moment to experience where we were and where we’d been.”
Regardless of what path they choose - “college, taking a gap year or joining the workforce,” - French voiced his hope that his fellow students would prioritize living in the moment instead of exclusively focusing on what comes after.
“While the journey being more important than the destination may be somewhat of a cliched philosophy, it doesn’t make it any less true,” said French. “So go out and try to enjoy your journey - wherever it may take you.”
In her remarks, Valedictorian Addy Capel commiserated with her fellow graduates about what they’re leaving behind and the fear that comes with not knowing what the future will hold.
“For 13 years, all we’ve known is the structure of an eight-period school day and the identity of being a Geneseo student,” said Capel, who will study biochemistry at Cornell University in the fall. “While we will always have that unifying background, pretty soon that common identity will be taken away. In a matter of hours, we will no longer be able to call ourselves Geneseo students but rather Geneseo alumni. It’s an exciting time, but an intimidating time nonetheless.”
Instead of giving into self-doubt, Capel stressed the importance of recognizing that it’s OK to make mistakes, to change your mind or major, to pursue a new job or career.
“We all make mistakes, face challenges day in and day out and our lives are bound to change. No one will have a perfect life without bumps in the road – that’s just a fact of life,” she said. “But another fact of life is this: Everyone who falls down has the ability to get back up. Every person who makes a mistake, encounters obstacles and endures tragedy or adversity - everyone of them can pick themselves back up, brush off the dust and try again.”
The 191 members of HFL’s class of 2021 and their friends and family assembled on Dollard Field Saturday for the district’s graduation ceremony.
In writing his speech, Salutatorian Mason Bulling confessed to seeking help from an unusual source – a prisoner. In their correspondence, the prisoner wrote on the importance of failure and making mistakes as a means to determining one’s identity.
Bulling carried the prisoner’s unusually eloquent advise over into his own speech.
“A combination of mistakes, persistence and time will result in achieving mastery,” said Bulling, who will study biometry and statistics at Cornell University. “Some people see mastery as unattainable, something you had to have been born with, a skill set impossible to develop later on in life. That is simply not true – the power of mastery is within us all.”
Ryan Dailor, valedictorian for the class of 2021, spoke of the importance of finding the people whose opinions you value and shutting out everyone else.
“Those are the people who will shape who we are and who we will become,” said Dailor, who will study electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern University.
The problem, said Dailor, is that it’s easy to listen to what everyone thinks – about who you hang out with, or what clothes you wear or what your interests are.
“Eventually,” said Dailor, “you hit a dead end because there will always be people who will critique you… To make it somewhere in this world you’ve got to be aware of the people whose opinions you value and then be able to emphasize them over the plethora of other voices you feel compelled to listen to.”
During the district’s graduation ceremony Saturday, High School Principal Karen Bennett told students to take a moment to thank all those who help them get here.
“Along the journey there has been many personal challenges. No one sitting on this stage has arrived here without someone helping them with those challenges,” said Bennett. “...today is a celebration and one not to take for granted as the journey has taken many twists and turns,”
Also at the ceremony, Board of Education President Todd Galton congratulated the students and guest speaker Chris Romanchock, who is also a social studies teacher, gave the students some final words to remember.
“Take care of those who can not take care of themselves,” said Romanchock. “You needed us to help you learn about the world now we need you to help build it to be a better place.”
Valedictorian Megan Guy gave an emotional speech to her fellow classmates. In the fall she will be attending Penn State, where she’ll study plant science.
Members of the class of 2021 received their diplomas Saturday afternoon on Saunder’s Field.
Given the trials and tribulations of a high school career marked in no small part by the coronavirus pandemic and the unique set of challenges it presented, Salutatorian Gianna Raqueno focused her remarks on the brighter side of the 2020-21 school year.
Among Raqueno’s bright moments were playing “Among Us” during class, the successful production “Little Shop of Horrors” in May and finally being able to wear the dress that’d been hanging in her closet for over a year to her senior prom.
Raqueno, who’s attending University of Rochester in the fall to study microbiology. concluded her remarks with a quote from “everyone’s favorite aardvark,” Arthur, of PBS fame: “Every day when you’re walking down the street, everybody that you meet has an original point of view. And I say ‘Hey, what a wonderful kind of day where you can learn to work and play and get along with each other.’”
Valedictorian Ethan DeMartinis, meanwhile, spoke on his and his classmates’ ability to push through change – not just during the pandemic, but over the course of their time at Livonia.
“For the class of 2021, perseverance is not the exception – it is the rule,” he said.
That perseverance has been much in evidence over the past 15 months, said DeMartinis, as students grappled with and overcame the challenges the pandemic put in their way.
“The class of 2021 is graduating. That means we did put the time effort and care needed to solve each and every one of those problems,” said DeMartinis. “We put on traditional events through Zoom, we organized prom and senior trips, we adjusted to our new schedules and poured everything we had into classes, extra curriculars, friendships and everything else and now we’re here. We persevered through all the difficulty and all of the change. We made it.”
At Wayland-Cohocton, Salutatorian Jack Mulford gave a powerful speech to his fellow classmates Sunday in the district’s fieldhouse.
“I think that our class is full of people going on to do great things, and it’s cool to see all of the different kinds of industries that everyone is heading into,” said Mulford, who was chosen to speak at the ceremony by his fellow students. “I know people in our class who are going to become teachers, mechanics, nurses, doctors, welders, businessmen and businesswomen, engineers, electricians, and even heroes that we refer to as soldier.”
For Mulford, the graduation ceremony was a day filled with mixed emotions.
“This past year has really shown that time moves all too fast. It seems like the week that school shut down in March,
which was over a year ago, was just last week. Having gone to Wayland since pre-k, it feels to me like this class is a second family full of great people that I’m glad to be a part of,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know everyone over the past 13 years. Thank you all for the memories, and to everyone, best of luck in your future.”