Schenectady County

Big hugs, cheers as 61 Schenectady seniors get their diplomas

Given a second chance, 61 Schenectady High School students earned their diplomas this summer — a new

Given a second chance, 61 Schenectady High School students earned their diplomas this summer — a new high for the school district.

Last year, 51 students graduated after summer school. At the time, it was the largest summer graduation in Schenectady history, Principal Diane Wilkinson said.

The 20 percent increase this year had principals and teachers delighted. They greeted individual students with hugs and triumphant shouts when the students arrived in their caps and gowns. In some cases, administrators didn’t know which students had passed their Regents exams until the students walked in.

Wilkinson ran across the high school lobby to throw her arms around one young man and shout, “Oh my god! You did it!”

Donnie Kerr hugged her back awkwardly. He had to take the U.S. history exam several times before finally passing it two weeks ago.

Wilkinson said she could see the failure in his eyes when she worked with him after each attempt at the exam. She told him to push on.

“You continue to reflect with them on how important it is to graduate,” she said. “That you can do this.”

Kerr put the problem succinctly, saying he was distracted when he should have been studying during the school year. “But I pulled it together.”

So many students graduated that they nearly didn’t all fit in the Black Box Theater at the high school. Hundreds of parents and friends showed up, delaying the graduation as teachers brought in more chairs. Dozens of adults ended up sitting on the edge of the risers, leaving only a narrow walkway for the graduates. It was the largest crowd the school ever had for a summer graduation, Wilkinson said.

She told the graduates they had earned more than a diploma.

“After today, you can add perseverance to your resume. You can add resilience to your resume,” she said. “Dream it. Be it. Never give up. Because today you’ve proved when that happens, great things happen.”

As the students were called up one by one to receive their diploma, parents cheered wildly.

“We’re more excited than they are!” said Connie Foster, watching her daughter Jeannette Foster-Session.

Foster had never expected her daughter to fail senior year. The young woman was in accelerated classes throughout high school, while her disabled twin brother struggled to stay on track each year.

“He’s the one we were worried about,” Foster said. “My son, who had a disability, graduated with honors! He worked so hard and persevered.”

But his sister slacked off. This year, she was more interested in boys than in schoolwork, her mother said.

“Me and her dad have been trying to talk to her, but some things you have to learn the hard way,” she said. “You know what? I’m glad that she realized that now rather than later in life.”

She had been offered two scholarships — one for sports, one for music. She lost them both when she failed English and had to report that she would not graduate on time.

It was a harsh lesson, but she dropped the boys, focused on summer school and graduated, her mother said.

“She learned from her mistakes,” Foster said.

Now she’s planning to spend a year at Schenectady County Community College, earn good grades, and reapply to the four-year schools that had accepted her before.

Foster said her daughter’s true colors showed when she dealt with the disappointment of not graduating in June.

“I’m proud of her,” she said. “On her brother’s graduation day, she didn’t damper it. She faced all the teachers. She said she had to be there for her brother.”

And she didn’t just give up on school.

“This didn’t back her up,” Foster said proudly. “I’m proud that she’s a hard worker.”

She wiped away tears as her daughter accepted her diploma.

“Now she can be anything she wants to be.”

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