AMSTERDAM — The Amsterdam High School graduating class of 2021 crossed a field instead of a stage this year during an in-person ceremony where students were able to celebrate their perseverance together after spending so much time apart.
Being a part of a group of 285 graduating seniors milling about on the tennis courts at Shuttleworth Park before marching into the Rao Family Stadium for commencement had a strange yet joyful feeling for Hailey Duma and Marley Liszczynskyj.
“Since last year I haven’t been in as big a crowd as this,” Liszczynskyj said.
The final year of their high school careers was difficult, especially for Duma, who remained fully remote for the duration of her senior year.
“It was very hard,” Duma said. “We kind of lost touch with the real world.”
They overcame the challenges. Duma graduated as a member of National Honors Society and Liszczynskyj as a Smart Scholar and member of National Honors Society and Tri-M National Music Honor Society.
Both are looking forward to college. Duma is bound for Fulton-Montgomery Community College to become a registered nurse and Liszczynskyj is headed to the University of Maine to study psychology. And they were excited to share one last high school memory with all of their classmates.
“We worked hard for it,” Duma said. “I’m glad we got through it.”
The chance to celebrate her achievement before friends and family held deeper importance for Natalie Skotarczak, who became the first member of her family to graduate from high school.
“I worked really hard,” Skotarczak said. “My mom and dad didn’t graduate high school so this is really important to them.”
Now she is headed to SUNY Cobleskill to study wildlife conservation.
Similarly, Daniella Garcia expressed pride in earning her diploma after doing her best to cross the finish line with the help and support of teachers.
“The look on my mom’s face made me start to cry,” Garcia said on graduation day. “I got it done.”
After experiencing feelings of isolation while learning remotely during her senior year due to concerns of the coronavirus spreading through her large immediate family, Aijah Thomas was grateful for the chance to celebrate graduation as a whole class.
“It was totally insane, it wasn’t the typical senior year you always see in the movies. I only saw my senior class about five times this year,” said Thomas. “I’m really glad to see everybody for the last time all together, we grew up together.”
The ceremony was bitter sweet, she said, as she looks ahead to college at SUNY Oswego where she will study psychology.
In their final celebration together as a class, the graduating seniors also honored one of their own who couldn’t be there, Elijah Sleight, who died in a car accident in 2013 at the age of nine.
Elijah would have graduated from high school this year. The first diploma on Saturday was presented to his father, Christopher Sleight, on his behalf by Marie Curie Elementary School teacher Kacy Centi.
“Elijah made a lasting impression on his classmates at only nine years old. All of these years later you all still want to honor and remember him,” said Centi, who taught Elijah’s fourth-grade class. “Elijah may have left the physical world, but he is still here with all of us.”
Salutatorian Lucas Sarabia told the graduates to cherish the time they have by pursuing their passions.
“No matter what it is, do what you enjoy,” said Sarabia, who is headed to Syracuse University to study physics. “You may not know now or in the coming years what makes you happy, but once you find it, never let that go. With our limited time here we shouldn’t spend it stuck somewhere we don’t want to be.”
Valedictorian David Bertuch reminded the graduates of their good fortune based simply on the odds of their existence, which “are less than hitting the powerball 20 times in a row.”
Bertuch, who is headed to Cornell University to study computer engineering, challenged his fellow graduates to keep pushing against the odds in all of their future endeavors.
“Now is not the time to stop pushing forward,” Bertuch said. “As we soon take our diplomas, we will simultaneously seal this chapter of our story, but everyone one of us will remain a main character. I advise you all to take this life, dissect it, find beauty in it, and remain important.”