He’s only 16, but Travis Ghirdharie seemed wise beyond his years when he spoke of his experience at Schenectady High School at Sunday’s Key to the City program.
He was one of several students who were at the high school to tell their stories as part of an effort to entice more people to buy homes in the city by showcasing the opportunities that exist there.
All of the students said their experience at the high school has been a positive one, despite the bad reputation often associated with it.
“In reality, high school is what you make of it,” Ghirdharie said. “Anywhere that you go, there are going to be good people and bad people.”
The tall young man, who has a bright smile, skipped a grade and is now a high school senior with a full scholarship to Cornell University. He plans to study economics there in the fall.
Ghirdharie said he’s ready to go to college. “I feel like I’m going to have some learning to do, obviously, but I feel like I’ve been prepared with the workload that I’ve had here, especially with the diversity and the size, because we’re a very large-sized school; we’re larger than some universities too,” he said.
Senior Oriana Miles wasted no time beating around the bush about her feelings for her soon-to-be alma mater.
“I love it here. I’m just going to tell you that right up,” she announced. “I love being here in Schenectady and my favorite part about being in Schenectady is the Schenectady School District. It really is amazing. I’m not lying to you. They’re not paying me,” she said, eliciting chuckles from the group of spectators, which included local real estate agents, community leaders and business people.
The confident 17-year-old, who plays on the high school soccer team, has heard her share of trash-talk about her school.
“We, of course, meet other teams from other schools and there’s always that, ‘Oh my gosh, have you seen a fight? Are you involved in a gang?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I got stabbed five times this week,’ ” she joked, and then grew serious. “I’ve lived here my whole life and have not seen that many fights as you would expect, and they’ve been not as dangerous as they say.”
Miles, who will attend New York University in the fall, said she’s had many more good experiences than bad at Schenectady High School.
“It’s this amazing place where they teach you it’s OK to be different; it’s OK, no matter your religion or your ethnicity; it’s OK to be here. And I think it also gives you the sense of what the real world is like, because the real world isn’t this group of people and that group of people. It’s all mixed in together and I think that’s what makes it so great here.”
Schenectady High School is small compared to the school 18-year-old Akeem Celestine went to in Brooklyn before moving upstate when he was 10.
He said he likes his high school’s community, the diversity and the opportunities he’s had there.
“Getting to know my teachers and stuff like that really did bring out my inner self and I love it here,” he said.
He listed his activities at school, including the Blue Roses Theatre Company, the dance department and the student ambassador program.
“I do everything; I’m everywhere,” Celestine said, grinning.
Lua Arcos is working to fight ignorance for her senior project. To that end, she’s organized a Festival of the Arts, which will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. June 8 at the high school. The event will include artistic performances and displays by students of all different backgrounds.
A transplant from Florida, Arcos said she has enjoyed going to school with classmates of different ethnicities.
“Diversity is even more beautiful when you are actually immersed into it,” she said.
Jeff Leavitt, a senior who will attend the University of Rochester in the fall, said he finds the students at Schenectady High School to be more accepting of people from different cultures and races.
“We’ve all seen it. It’s fine. We’re not different people. We’re all just humans,” he said.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said Sunday’s event was part of an ongoing effort by the city to answer questions, reverse incorrect perceptions and get the message out that “Schenectady is a community of value; that we’re growing and there is opportunity here.”