As the sun rose Friday, so did the graduating seniors from the Schenectady High School class of 2013.
More than 450 Patriots, dressed in their red and blue caps and gowns, shuffled into Proctors bright and early to accept their diplomas.
“This is one of our finest classes ever,” Peter Parisi, the senior class principal, said. “They really embraced the whole idea of what it is to be a Patriot.”
The ceremony opened with bagpipers followed by the processional of graduates.
There was plenty of cheering, but especially when Schenectady schools Superintendent Laurence Spring announced that the high school reduced its number of dropouts this year by 26 percent.
“The students in the audience today persisted, persevered and excelled,” he said.
Spring commended the students and the documentary filmmaker, Jason Pollock, who inspired them to stay in school.
“Undroppable” has been a nationwide movement started by Pollock and brought to Schenectady High School. The movement uses video and social media to inspire students to stay in school and ultimately graduate. Many Schenectady students who had been struggling to complete their high school education made Undroppable videos that can now be found on YouTube.
Those videos were meant to inspire fellow classmates to graduate, despite adversity and the challenges they may face along the way. Five of those students graduated Friday.
At the end of each video, students state their names and say, “I am Undroppable.”
Pollock, the Undroppable filmmaker, writer and digital producer, delivered this year’s commencement speech. He framed his address around the rapper Drake, a well-received gesture by the audience.
Pollock took a line from one of Drake’s songs and explained it.
“Started from the bottom, now we’re here,” he recited.
Pollock said he thinks the line is not always taken the way it was meant to be taken. He believes all people in life start from the bottom; it has nothing to do with money or fame. Hard work pays off and if you work hard enough, you will be successful, he said.
“I think started from the bottom resonates with all of us,” he said. “Because we all start from the bottom.”
Pollock also explained one of his own lines he lives by.
“I am Undroppable,” he said. “I truly believe this is a phrase we all need to be saying more often.”
Pollock commended the graduates throughout his speech.
“You graduates are truly leaders in this community,” he said.
An apparent leader from the 2013 graduating class is salutatorian Redal Ram. He gave an unlikely speech that drew a standing ovation from the audience. Ram, who will attend Dartmouth College in the fall to study mechanical engineering, presented a poetic rap he wrote.
“I have the pleasure to look out and see some truly great minds right here before me,” he said. “Who are about to take a few steps out the door and completely shake this world to its core.”
At times the audience roars were so loud Ram had to pause.
“I am talking about once you can see an image before you vividly, that is the moment you have found what fuels your fire,” he said. “And that is what you cling to, not what others desire.”
Valedictorian Nina Dytiuk also spoke. The guest speaker this year was U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam. Students and their families described the Schenectady High School class of 2013 as vibrant, diverse and supportive.
“Everybody matured,” Justin Cook, 18, said. “I have been with a lot of these people since middle school.”
Lua Arcos, 18, the class of 2013 president, agreed.
“We are a very diverse group of people,” she said. “Personality-wise and culture-wise, and I think that is wonderful.”
Lisa Patierne, mother of one of the graduates, said she is both proud and sad to see the class of 2013 go. She explained that they are a very tight-knit group.
“They all support each other,” she said. “It is going to be hard to say goodbye.”
It was truly a morning of celebrations. During his speech, Pollock made sure to remind the graduates how far they have come, not only in their time at Schenectady High School, but also in life.
“Each of you had to start from the bottom,” he said. “And now you are here.”