SARATOGA SPRINGS — Plenty of balloons and a big American flag waved back and forth in a slight breeze, while Saratoga Central Catholic staff members donning purple t-shirts buzzed about as the graduating seniors showed up behind the school Friday to pick up caps and gowns in preparation for their official send off that will take place in July.
Ria Walsh was the only senior asked to put her cap and gown on.
“This was a complete surprise,” said the 18-year-old Ballston Spa resident, clad head to ankle in gold. “I am so thankful.”
Friday’s get-together served as Walsh’s graduation ceremony from a school she has attended since sixth grade. Not even her parents, Sue and Gary, who adopted the Russian-born teen when she was 3-years-old, let on that something special was in the works.
“It’s kind of a shock, but then again, it isn’t,” Ria Walsh said after being presented with her diploma. “That’s what I like about this school. They’re so generous and giving.”
Saratoga Catholic’s official graduation ceremony is scheduled for July 10 at St. Clement’s in Saratoga. Walsh will be in Missouri by then, at Fort Leonard Wood, as part of a 21-week program of basic training and job training as a member of the Army National Guard.
“It’s a great touch to be able to recognize her for her years here,” Saratoga Catholic dean of students and athletic director Phonsey Lambert said. “It’s just nice.”
Walsh joined the Army National Guard last August. It was a move she had been considering for years.
“I wasn’t the kid that played with a Barbie doll,” said Walsh, who holds the rank of private first class. “I took my own path. I played with handcuffs, a medical kit, a basketball.”
Handcuffs or a medical kit could be an essential part of Walsh’s future. She is using the Army National Guard as a kick-start to a career in law enforcement – she has interned with the DEA in Latham – or in the medical field.
“I’ve always wanted to help people,” Walsh said. “That’s my thought process. In school I always wanted to lend a helping hand.”
In school, Walsh often did that as an honor roll student and active member of several organizations and sports teams.
“She is one of those 110 percent kids,” Lambert said.
Walsh ran cross country and played soccer, softball and basketball while at Saratoga Catholic, and this past winter season she added to a long list of accolades when she was named most valuable player of the Saints’ Mike Beson Tournament.
“She spent a lot of time with our basketball program, since seventh grade,” Lambert said. “She has a deep passion for basketball.”
“When it comes to PT [physical training], you don’t have to worry about her. She’s great at sports,” said Staff Sergeant Brandon Moseman, the Saratoga County ANG recruiter. “She always wants to beat the person next to her. She is very motivated.”
Walsh appeared in three plays while at Saratoga Catholic, and last fall she filled the role of Haversham in the SCC Players’ production of “The Butler Did It.”
“That was my first lead role,” Walsh said. “Usually I was in small to minor parts, but I was determined to get that role. That was one of the highlights of my senior year.”
Friday’s get-together on a sunny day behind the school was another.
At one point, a procession of cars passed through the parking lot, and each one stopped while a senior collected a gift bag and awards they had achieved over the course of the academic year. Each senior then stepped out of their vehicle and was handed a ball to fire away at a dunking booth where Lambert, the popular administrator and coach, sat ready to be soaked. For the record, Walsh hit the target on her second toss but
Lambert stayed put, that is, until she ran forward and took care of business with a solid punch.
“I hit it the second time, and it didn’t go down,” Walsh chuckled. “I said, ‘He’s getting dunked.'”
Reach Jim Schiltz at [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.