June 26, 2015
The Niskayuna High School Class of 2015 put the gratitude in graduation. At
commencement exercises at Proctors on Thursday, June 25, class members were
encouraged to live full lives, treasure their friends and family, take risks
and, if ever they do fall, to get right back up.
They also seized every opportunity to show their appreciation for the family, teachers, school leaders, and community that helped put them on the path to accepting their diplomas and setting out to discover their dreams.
This was highlighted by the class gift, the restoration of the original, wooden Niskayuna High School crest. The crest – designed upon the founding of the high school in the 1950s – was hand-carved in 1983 to recognize the high school’s 25th anniversary. The Class of 2015 gift marks the district’s recent 60th anniversary, and it will now remain on permanent display in the Crossroads area of the high school.
"We hope that it will remain there as a reminder of our thankfulness for years to come," said class Secretary Meghan Stevenson.
Class President Rachel Padula emphasized the importance of perseverance as she addressed her classmates.
"Life is not measured by how many times you fall, but by how many times you get back up," Padula reminded the 320-member graduating class. She asked them to remember their friends, know themselves, and go find out just what it is that they love to do.
"Society is going to tell you that your value as a person is measured by money and your job title – not by doing what you love," Padula said. "Don’t listen to society. Don’t let them tell you who you are because you know who you are, and you know your value and your worth."
High School Principal John Rickert welcomed the Class of 2015 into the proud tradition that is a Niskayuna graduation.
"This class has endless potential and talent," Rickert said. "We have students with published literary works, award winning film students and artists, accomplished musicians, state and national level athletes, and we have students who climbed to levels higher than they could ever imagine as ninth graders. We have students who overcame tremendous obstacles to be here tonight. "
"You have left your mark and you are ready for the next phases of your life," Mr. Rickert added.
Mr. Rickert recognized a few individuals for all that they have done for Niskayuna High School and the community: Board of Education member Bob Winchester, who is retiring after 9 years on the Board, which followed a 36 year career in the district; Board member Barbara Mauro just completed her 18th year on the Board; former Assistant High School Principal Mark Treanor, who took a position at the District Office earlier this year after 30 years at the high school; and Assistant Principal Marna Meltzer, who was just named principal of Berne-Knox-Westerlo.
Mr. Rickert also honored John Yagielski, the district’s interim superintendent until just recently, with a surprise Medal of Niskayuna Excellence for his leadership, character, and overall contributions to the school community. At the podium, Mr. Yagielski paid special tribute to the graduates’ parents and Niskayuna teachers, asking them to stand for a round of applause.
The evening was punctuated outstanding musical performances from the graduates: A solo piano performance of Chopin’s "Quatrieme Ballade in F Minor," by Aaron Chan; a solo violin performance of "Ashokan Farewell," by Samantha Burgess; and a uniquely arranged, a Capella presentation of "I’ve Had the Time of My Life," by 20 members of the class.
The Niskayuna High School Hall of Fame induction ceremony is part of graduation each year. Board President Patricia Lanotte welcomed 1980 graduate and Pulitzer Prize winner Gilbert King to the Hall of Fame.
King won writing’s most esteemed prize for general non-fiction in 2013 for his book, "Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, The Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America." The book tells the larger story of racial injustice in 1940s Florida through the case.
In his remarks, King recounted just how unlikely it was when he received his diploma that he one day return to address graduates of his alma mater – let alone appear before the U.S. Supreme Court as a celebrated author. At that time, King said he favored baseball over school work, and after his dream of playing pro ball fell through, he worked a series of jobs until he finally turned his passion for books into his life’s work.
With his 35th high school reunion approaching, King said he hoped that this year’s graduates would also find themselves one day looking forward to reconnecting with classmates.
"I hope that many of you, like me, are pleasantly surprised where life has taken you, to a place beyond dreams, because you are too busy living a meaningful life, taking on new challenges, growing as a human being, reading, loving, and caring about the people you are sitting with today," King said. "That’s the most important part of your journey. And you don’t have to dream it – it’s right there for you to take hold of."
While they were still surrounded by their teachers and school leaders at Proctors, the graduates took the opportunity to let them know the difference they had made. The Class announced a series of charitable donations, selected to personally honor Principal Rickert, Assistant Principals Mr. Treanor,
Mrs. Meltzer-McMorris, and Eva Jones, as well as Student Activities Coordinator Vince Bianchi.
Class Vice President Lauren Litz and Treasurer Joseph Gunderson also recognized their class advisors, teachers Mary Jane McPherson and Joanna Reader. Through their stewardship of the class, McPherson and Reader fostered real-world learning experiences and modeled the highest ideals of Niskayuna High School.
"We can’t thank them enough for reminding us how much we were capable of if we ever forgot," Litz said.