NISKAYUNA – Niskayuna High School graduates on Wednesday night celebrated the end to 13 years of school, four years of high school and 15 months of a global pandemic as they joined together in the school’s annual commencement ceremony.
Student speakers acknowledged the challenges of their final two years in high school – limited social interactions, ever-changing health precautions, technical glitches and canceled events – but they also defined themselves and their classmates in the spirit of the resilience and determination that helped them through those challenges.
“At the ages of 17 and 18, we have been through enough current events to cover the news cycle of an entire lifetime,” senior class President Enana Jacob told her fellow graduates. “I don’t want to dwell on the strife of these events, each of us are more than aware of the struggles and hardships of the past year … Today is about celebration.”
And celebrate they did.
The seniors showed off both their oratory and musical skills. Graduate Ava Fallone serenaded her classmates and the crowd with an acoustic original of her own, “Cherry on Top.” A few minutes later, a quartet of graduates – Christopher Gabelman, Mackenzie Kirwan, Lucas Lynch and Samuel Petreikis – rocked out with a cover of Weezer song “Undone.”
“Aw man, hell, brah, this is the best, man,” the lead singer sang as he writhed on stage and tossed a shoe at his guitarist. “I’m so glad we’re all back together and stuff. This is great, man.”
The suburban Schenectady County school district celebrated its 63rd commencement Wednesday night and awarded the 20,000th diploma in the school’s history to Jacob, the class president.
The ceremony served as a reminder of improving conditions: While last year’s graduates had to drive up to a socially-distanced ceremony outside of the school, the Class of 2021, most without the need to wear masks, sat side-by-side in rows of blue chairs spread across the arena floor. Families sat in groups spread throughout the cavernous TU Center.
Jacob said that she and her classmates must remember to hope for the best, even as they know they can survive much worse than that.
“We have to hope that things will all work out OK even when they feel like they won’t,” Jacob said. “Nothing is guaranteed and our entire class had to learn that early on in our lives. Nothing is guaranteed, not a normal school year, not our health and not the toilet paper at the store.”
But when things get hard in the future, she said, they can always remember what they have already endured.
“We have a perseverance, a resilience, a strength within us,” she said,
Carly Dell, the senior class secretary, thanked the parents of the graduates for their efforts during the pandemic.
“This year you had to take on the role of parent, teacher, counselor and turn your homes into a place of learning,” Dell said. “Thanks to you we are now ready to explore the world, leave our mark and make you proud.”
The 351 graduates in the Niskayuna Class of 2021 are headed all over the country in the fall, continuing their studies in college, beginning work careers and committing themselves to years of military service. Graduate Jack Schiavo missed Wednesday’s ceremony because he was already fulfilling his duty to the Air Force Academy.
High School Principal John Rickert summed things up in remarks to the students.
“You have been through a lot,” he told the graduates. “And that’s an understatement.”