Class of 2017 graduates get words of inspiration
by Rich Rosentreter
The Tupper Lake High School graduation was held on Friday, June 23 and each speaker who addressed the Class of 2017 and their family and friends provided words of inspirations, among them to enjoy life and the lessons of failing and the importance of being connected.
It was an evening of joy and tears as the latest graduates from Tupper Lake finished their high school education and will move onto either college, the military or find a role in the work force. Whether it was a message from classmates as was the case of Valedictorian Katie Zurek and Salutatorian Logan Savage, a former local graduate and guest speaker Jonathan Collier or school officials such as district Superintendent Seth McGowan and high school Principal Russ Bartlett, the Class of 2017 was provided valuable advice.
The main speakers were preceded by the welcoming remarks of senior class co-secretaries Morgan Sovey and Kaitlyn Gilman which was followed by the introductory commentary by Principal Bartlett.
After reciting some factoids he found through researching “graduation” on the internet such as the oldest high school graduate being 94 years old, Bartlett also listed several predictions such as how physical currency will probably end in their lifetimes. Then he focused on his main message.
“For me, the cool thing about this list of predictions is not so much that they will happen, but that you, the members of the Class of 2017, will be responsible for making these and dozens of other unimaginable things come true,” Bartlett said. “These things won’t be easy. They will test your limits, your nerve and your imagination, and you will fail more often than you succeed. But that’s okay. Each attempt is a learning experience that will allow you to do better on your next try.”
“Keep your chin up, remember who you are and where you come from, and get the job done, because, as the great philosopher Norgan once said, ‘Sometimes in life, people are going to go camping in your hallways. It’s how you respond to it that says the most about who you are.’”
Salutatorian Logan Savage was next up to the podium, and he stressed what he has learned through some relatives and thanked his parents and grandparents for all their support and helping him to believe in himself. He also thanked the school’s faculty, staff and classmates and said that one of the most important things in life is to pursue happiness.
“While none of us may know what direction our lives will go after graduation, there's one thing we know for sure, and that is no matter what we are doing or where we find ourselves, we must find something that makes us happy every single day of our lives,” Logan said, conveying a message he learned from an aunt. “Lives for yourself! No one else can do that for you. Do the things that make you happy.”
Following his message, the audience of graduates, their friends and family and school faculty were treated to a stirring and heart-felt rendition of “Rivers and Roads” performed by the school chorus, which included some of the seniors who would sing with this group for the final time.
Valedictorian Katie Zurek was then summoned to the stage and she quickly brought the crowd to one of the most light-hearted and humorous moments of the ceremony as she took the opportunity to rap from Eminem's “Lose Yourself.”
First, she had a quick explanatory message for her father.
“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted, in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip? Then she broke out: “Yo! His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti. He nervous, but on the surface his calm and ready."
Her rap session was followed by some of the loudest applause of the evening.
“Okay, I just had to get that out there," and then Zurek began by thanking her parents, teachers, coaches, school staff members along with the entire Tupper Lake community “for supporting and believing in us for past 18 years.” Katie focused on the bond the graduates have with each other.
“The dictionary defines superlative as: of the highest kind, quality, or order, surpassing all else, or others. Supreme, but I define it as the Tupper Lake class of 2017. As students, hallway campers, friends and overall people we are of the highest kind, quality, and order. Supreme. In our senior slideshow there were pictures from elementary school, birthday parties, sporting events and ones taken just a couple of months ago, all of which were gems. But the ones that stood out to me had us wearing our kindergarten graduation shirts in them. They had a picture of our whole grade sitting on the hill outside L.P. Quinn with the words 'forever friends' ironed on across the top.”
“I think we will be the class who will actually be forever friends. We laughed and cried with each other, fought but would always make up, had fun and when we weren’t, we’d make the best of it. Each year we grew closer and came together despite what kept us apart and for that I am very grateful. Even though we are going our separate ways, if you ever need help, we are all just a phone call away. Part of the crew, part of the ship.”
“There is a quote that says, ‘Some people die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.’ Don’t die at 25. With whatever you choose to do, don’t forget to make sure you are always enjoying your life and are helping others enjoy theirs too. A successful life is not measured by how much money you make or how many cars you have, but by how many lives you made better,” she said. “Congratulations everyone and may your hats fly as high as your dreams. From the bottom of my heart, I wish you all the very, very, very, best!”
Following a loud applause for Zurek’s message, it was district Superintendent Seth McGowan’s turn to enlighten the graduates. This year he had a special connection to the graduating class as his daughter Sarah was among those receiving a diploma.
First McGowan stressed the theme of connectedness and also gave his annual personal accounts of many students and their time back at the L.P. Quinn Elementary School, where he once served as the school principal. Many of the graduates had an opportunity to publicly reminisce their grade school moments with the help of McGowan’s lead.
“It’s about being connected, and not to the Internet,” he said. “If you’re connected to someone or some group, then you’re not alone. I feel like I have a particular connection with this group.”
He said that although he has three children, in reality he considers all the students in the district also his children. McGowan set the stage by pointing out the tie he was wearing had the footprints of his daughter Sarah before hitting the punchline that he had under his dress shirt. In one of the most memorable moments of the ceremony McGowan unbuttoned his shirt to expose a T-shirt that had an image of the elementary school’s Class of 2005, the same group of students who were now graduating from the district.
McGowan’s message was clear - he has a special bond with the graduating class and wished them all the best of luck in their future endeavors.
Guest speaker Jonathan Collier, a graduate of Tupper Lake High School who has had a successful career in the computer industry, gave the Class of 2017 the final words of inspiration for the evening. But before he gave his address, he was given an introduction by Morgan Sovey and Ryan Becker, who used his portion to provide a first-hand account of the role the guest speaker had on his education.
Becker said that last year he was one of the Tupper Lake students who were invited to tour Collier’s place of employment in Boston and was treated to an educational experience beyond his expectations. Given Becker’s buildup, Collier commenced his address.
“I’m excited to be here with you on one of the most important days of your life,” he began as he focused on being happy, and being a failure – at first – before finding the path to success.
“My high school experience here in Tupper Lake could be characterized as a series of spectacular failures. As a teenager, I was enthusiastic about participating in every sport and every club that Tupper Lake had to offer. And I was, without a doubt, terrible at all of them,” Collier said.
He reflected upon his failures at the school and described how each one had a role in his eventual success as it led him to what he was good at.
“On the football field, Coach Klossner patiently rotated me through most of the positions, trying to find one where I would do the least amount of damage. His efforts were in vain. My single greatest contribution to the Lumberjacks was when I broke my finger during warm-up passes and was benched for the game,” Collier said, adding his time on the track team, band and chorus to his list of failures.
“For four years, I tried to clear the six-foot minimum qualifying height in the high jump - and never made it. I wasn’t even close. In the band, I played the French horn. Terribly. In chorus, my singing voice sounded like a raccoon drowning at Bog River Falls,” he said. “I forgot my lines during the musical, I failed my first driver’s license test, and I stepped on the feet of the few girls who would dance with me at prom. I’m so glad that Tupper Lake High School gave me the chance to learn about some of the many things in life that I would be bad at. Why? Because I learned about myself, and I learned about life, by trying new things.”
“But, as I was recovering from my football injuries, I also learned that I had a knack for understanding computers, and how to get them to do what I wanted. That interest and enthusiasm for programming and technology has developed into a rewarding career that I love. I found out that - while I really enjoyed music, I wasn’t all that great at it. But – in exploring my artistic side, I discovered a passion for photography. When I started taking pictures as a hobby, I wasn’t particularly good. But I kept at it, and I learned and I got better. I now find it to be one of my most rewarding pastimes,” he said.
“These are passions that I wouldn’t have discovered without the failures that preceded them. Despite these failures, I can stand here today and confidently tell you that I am one of the happiest, and most successful people that I know,” Collier added. “What does that mean? Success? When I was graduating from high school, I thought that success - and happiness - had a lot to do with money. I was wrong. In my short life, I've been lucky enough to meet and spend time with thousands of different people across the globe. I've seen a lot of happy people, and a lot of unhappy people. I cannot give you the secret answer to happiness. But I can give you three clues. The people who you spend time with. Your family and friends. Sometimes, they drive you crazy. But they will be one of your biggest sources of happiness. If you're spending time around people who consistently make you unhappy – then start spending your time around other people. Life is too short for that.”
Collier also urged graduates to respect their bodies and suggested running as a means to staying healthy before he gave his advice on finding a career.
“You don't need to start running marathons, but you do need to pay attention to your health,” he said. “And now, the most challenging happiness indicator, your career. It's not easy to find a career that clicks with you. You don't need to get rich. Your work doesn't need to be fun, and it doesn't have to be a dream job. Life is hard. You already know that. And being an adult is hard. It doesn’t get easier with time or practice. The world doesn’t make it easy for you. But I guarantee you: if you push yourself to get outside of your comfort zone, and if you can learn from your failures, and if you put in the effort to working your way towards happiness, then you’re going to love your life. Our world is an incredible place full of really amazing experiences. In graduating today, after all of your hard work, you’re well on your way.”
After all the inspirational speeches, the Class of 2017 had one final chance to soak in their last moments as high school students. Tears flowed throughout the audience as flowers were presented to their family members or close friends, and then just like that, it was all over.
Welcome to the world and best of luck Class of 2017.
Class of 2017 graduates get words of inspiration