by Rich Rosentreter
The Tupper Lake High School was full of tears last week. Tears of joy that is.
The joy was in the air despite the words of warning from guest speaker Mark Moeller, who cautioned the Class of 2016 that life was about to get more difficult as the “easy part is over.”
But for the most part, there was a sense of accomplishment for this year's Tupper Lake graduating class, who all reached a milestone of their young lives, and friends and family gathered inside the high school gymnasium to recognize their achievement.
Words of wisdom and encouragement were par for the course on this special day and each speaker brought a vital message, sometimes drawing thunderous applause or bringing tears to some eyes.
The following is each speaker's graduation message as presented at the ceremony held Friday, June24 in the high school gymnasium.
Principal Matt Southwick was the first school administrator to address the audience, and the loudest cheer came when he announced that graduates Josh Fowler and Brandon Picerno were entering the military following their graduation.
He also pointed out that “through the generous donations of this local community, approximately $102,000 in locally-generated awards and scholarships were given to this class” during the senior awards ceremony. “That's impressive!”
“This dollar amount is representative of how dedicated this community is to the future who is sitting here today,” he said. “I can tell you first-hand that this kind of financial support does not happen in all communities.”
Southwick mentioned that today's world of reality TV, media and politics focuses on being “mean” and he urged the graduates to incorporate a different frame of mind.
“I wish to ask that your generation consider the fact that it does not have to be that way,” he said. “Respecting each other's differences starts with the word respect and starts with your own actions, and my actions and our actions. It is OK to differ on topics or thoughts with someone without tearing up the character of those we differ from. Reality TV and politics of today do not tell us that.”
“Being mean and shocking does gain our attention as a society,” he said. “But kindness and compassionate still does matter in our world.”
“Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. The more we try to understand each other, the more exceptional each of us shall be. We have to try ...try to make this world a better place. Look inside yourself, and recognize that change starts with you. It starts with me and it starts with all of us in this room.”
“I have the utmost confidence that whatever you do and wherever life takes you, that you will take a little piece of Tupper Lake with you. You will always will represent the core values of Tupper Lake: honesty, integrity, pride and hard work. You are our future! Remember at some point to thank all those who helped you get here.”
Following the principal, Salutatorian Breanna Trombley was the next key speaker to take the podium, and her message focused on the fact that many of the graduates are already equipped for success and their parents should have confidence in them.
“What a whirlwind it has been. I've known most of you since pre-K, and despite how dysfunctional we might be, we are like a huge family. It's sad that we've only really come to realize this the past few months. But I do know, that we are going to have some pretty awesome reunion parties in the future.”
When I was writing this speech, I searched for things to say to everyone. To inspire us, or uplift us in this short period of time. I don't need to tell you you'll succeed in life, or become something great as we grow older, because we already have all the confidence and perseverance we'll ever need.”
“Six years ago when we walked through these halls for the first time, terrified because everyone wasso much bigger than us, we saw something amazing that we couldn't appreciate until today. We took in everything that would help us grow, that would teach us lessons, build friendships, and create ideals that we would carry with us forever.
“We are moving forward, into the vast and often complexing world that we live in. Parents, have confidence in your children, the young adults you see before you are ready. We know what to expect, for most of us it's college debt. Others, not so much, and that's the beauty of growing up. We leave the nest, spread our wings, and learn to fly.”
Valedictorian Annachristi Cordes' turn was next, and the highest-ranking graduate in the Tupper Lake Class of 2016 told her fellow classmates to continue their fight to succeed in life.
“This is it, class of 2016! We’re all headed off to the next chapter of our lives: college, the military, work. Maybe a couple of you are taking a year off to travel, or to find yourselves. Goodness knows we’d all like to travel for a bit. But the point is we’re moving on. We’re all going somewhere incredible!”
“As author William Faulkner said in his Nobel Prize Banquet Speech, we have 'a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.' When Faulkner said this, he was talking about humanity as a whole, saying that humanity won’t merely endure but it will prevail. While we are not the entirety of humanity, we are humanity’s leaders, their next hope, so Faulkner’s message in every way still applies to us. We all have a soul and we fight for ourselves. We don’t lie down and wait for our personal battles to pass, but instead are proactive about it.”
“Various people helped us along the way, such as friends, family, and teachers. They gave us the first push on the swing set, letting us fly higher and higher. Once in a while we would slow down, but someone we met or something we did always let us regain the momentum we once had. I’m sure we all have a certain person or groups of people that have done this for us, and they’ve done this out of the love they have for us. We won’t ever forget them and continue to honor what they’ve done for us as we move on. But also don’t forget that you still did the work, and they only helped. You’re all so much stronger than you may think you are, and I, along with everyone else in your lives, am so proud of all of you for all that you’ve accomplished.”
“We all, I’m sure, had a time where we believed that it would be more worthwhile to take the easy road or keep our current situations. But we’ll all find, or may have already found, that one little action, one little push, can determine the rest of our lives. One 'hello' can create a life-long friendship, and one little 'no' can lead us down a much different path than we were on before. I don’t want to sound cliche, but our instinct to fight to make our lives our own has and will continue to open countless doors for each and every one of us.”
“If there’s one thing we can do, it’s fight and endure. Our determination to fight and succeed has brought us farther than we ever thought it would. We’ve pushed ourselves to the limit, and it’s all paid off. Because here we go, with new people to meet, new adventures to go on, and new places to explore. Class of 2016, go kick some butt and remember to, first and foremost, continue to fight for yourselves!”
Before guest speakerMark Moeller hit the podium, Tupper Lake Central School District Superintendent Seth McGowan provided his usual words of wisdom mixed in with a dose of humor.
McGowan shared memories he had of many of the graduates from the days they were students at the L.P. Quinn Elementary School through their progression through high school.
Moeller took the podium to speak following an introduction by graduating students Amie Luton and Devon Beaudette.
One of the first things Moeller pointed out was informing students that the folder they were to receive upon coming up to the stage when their name was called as a graduate, that there was not an actual diploma on the inside.
“Welcome to the real world,” he said. “But first of all – congratulations. Congratulations on getting through the easiest years of your life. That's right! You have many years ahead of you but unfortunately the easiest part is all over.”
“You will receive many accolades for this milestone this evening, and rightly so, but I'm here to give you a carpe-diem. I'm here to give you a warning!”
Moeller decided to use the topic of music to highlight his next point, using rock singer Bruce Springsteen as his angle.
“Bruce wrote songs about youth and about growing up , about dreams that were followed and dreams that never came true, about hope and despair, the Promised Land, about love and love lost.
“One of Bruce's songs has particular meaning for this occasion ...the song is called 'The River.' It was written in 1980 when Bruce was just a few years older than you are now. It starts with a haunting harmonica solo and it describes teenage love where 'the river' was the place this young couple went to hang out and dream about the future. You may have such a place. The couple in the song was entering the world as young adults and they had hopes and dreams just as you do - they were ready to take on the world. Now fast forward and the man is decades older and his dreams have gone unrealized but he still goes down to the river although the river is dry – but now he goes alone. The river is gone and so are his dreams.”
“It begs the question: What did he do with the time that had passed? Bruce asks: Is a dream a lie that doesn't come true or is it something worse?
“As I noted up front, I'm here in part as a warning to each of you- you'll be successful in many areas. You'll earn a good living, raise a family, but as they say, time marches on. Time is the theme of my talk and Bruce helped me set that up. You are not thinking about your mortality. Nor should you be, but mortality is thinking about you. The clock that measures your life span does not run at a steady pace. It speeds up as each year passes by. That's why I'm here tonight to warn you. Use time wisely.” Moeller then hit home with several key suggestions for the Class of 2016.
“First, be kind. The rest of your life can be wonderful, it can be hard and it can be unfair all at the same time. My suggestion may sound simplistic, but with a kind word or act you have the ability to make someone feel better each and every day.”
“Be kind to those around you because your troubles may be minute compared to theirs. Be kind to your parents and siblings. They will be your friends long after you've lost touch with high school friends.”
My second recommendation is to give back. It's not enough just to be kind. You need to put that into action. You are now an adult and you are now expected to contribute to society. Each of you has special skills that will not only benefit you but could benefit those around you as well. Share them. Teach youth sports, lead a scout pack, share the arts, join the volunteer fire department or rescue squad. Join a service club that serves the community. The added benefit is that you will make some new friends.”
“My third recommendation is to take risks. Take the tough job nobody else wants. Take the tough assignment that nobody else will take in the exotic, or not so exotic location. Volunteer to go to Geneva or Singapore, or even Boise or Akron.”
“Take risks knowing that you will make mistakes but you will grow from those experiences. You will regret the things you didn't do more than the things you did. We have all done ridiculous things that make for some great stories but they will not be your greatest regret. Your greatest regret will be that thing you didn’t do.”
“Lastly, choose wisely. Your two most important choices will be your career path and the partner you choose to share your adult life with. You’ll work many different jobs but the most important job you will ever have is when you become a parent. Don’t laugh, it’s going to happen. You will be responsible for molding a pliable mind into an adult. What greater responsibility can there be?”
“Look up into the stands and find your parents, grandparents or guardians. Look at them. As young adults they had dreams not unlike yours, but they made tough choices, concessions, as we all do. They compromised on their dreams to give you a better life. Life is all about compromise. You can only fully repay them for that sacrifice by being the person they know that you can be. At least become the person your dog thinks you already are.”
“Your path in life will not be straight and narrow. It will be filled with many off ramps and detours. It comes with many choices to make. Those choices will define your character. The person you become will not be limited by your gender, race, religion, your ancestors or current socio-economic status. Your character will be based upon the choices that you make or don't make.”
“So as you head off to college, the work force or the military, I wish you all the best. Enjoy the weekend, be safe and as Bruce says, "I'll meet you in the land of hope and dreams.".
Perhaps the loudest applause of the evening came when veteran Richard Staves, now in his 70s was summoned to the stage to receive his diploma, which he was able to get through the Operation Recognition program. Staves attended Tupper Lake High School, but did not receive his diploma because he entered military service.
Moeller, who himself has a military background, introduced Mr. Staves, as the new “graduate” sat among the crowd.
“I'd like to recognize one of your classmates who you've never seen in class. When he was just 17 years old he had left high school and was refueling aircraft in Texas and California for the US Air Force. It was the late 1950s and things would soon heat up in a country called South Vietnam. Today Mr. Richard Staves is being honored by joining your class to receive his high school diploma. It's kind of a tradition in the Staves family to serve in Air Force. Mr. Staves represents the finest tradition of duty, honor and selfless service to this country. Thank you Richard for your service and congratulations.”
On that note, the entire gymnasium began its applause, then rose to its feet in honor of the veteran. Before the night was over, Brandon Picerno and Josh Fowler, who someday will also be military veterans, walked side-by-side with Mr. Staves as he proudly accepted his diploma with the rest of the Class of 2016.