They are the G.O.A.T — the greatest of all time — at least that’s what Friday’s Schenectady graduates argue.
It’s a bold claim, but maybe they have the facts on their side: at 65 percent, they have the highest graduation rate in over a decade; they will attend Harvard, West Point, Dartmouth and many more colleges in the fall; they sold out plays and musicals, produced short films and earned millions in scholarships.
And the Schenectady High School Class of 2016 — just over 450 students — weren’t afraid to show it as they stepped onto the main stage at Proctors as seniors and left it as graduates.
As the students walked toward their diplomas, they waved and blew kisses, danced and back flipped. They strutted, selfied, spun, saluted and shimmied to their futures. They crossed the stage with a diverse set of moves — one even dropped a full split in the middle of the stage, a definite crowd-pleaser.
Class valedictorian James Blanchfield, who has attended Schenectady public schools since kindergarten, thought it was a settled matter, self-evident that his school and class might have a legitimate claim on greatest-of-all-time status.
“Of all the school districts I have attended, I can say Schenectady is the best,” said Blanchfield, who is headed to Harvard in the fall.
He recalled an unforgettable example of the resiliency of Schenectady students: “In elementary school, I saw someone break a window with his head, and I didn’t think that was possible,” he said. “The kid was fine.”
Blanchfield joked that people often say going to school in Schenectady gives students a dose of the “real world . . . like it’s an extra certificate on top of your diploma.” But many of those people grow up in neighborhoods with no diversity and move to neighborhoods with no diversity, he said.
But at Schenectady High School, students come from countless backgrounds, and they all learn and gain from one another.
“Maybe the real world should try to be a little bit more like Schenectady,” he said.
To Superintendent Larry Spring and high school Principal Diane Wilkinson, this year’s graduating class started as freshmen when they took their respective positions.
“I find myself deeply impressed with your poise, your voice, your sense of self,” Spring told the graduates. “I find myself jealous as it took me far longer to find my own voice and begin to speak to the world.”
The family and friends in the audience, which seemed to fill every seat in the city’s historic theater, were deeply impressed as well. They cheered and screamed and snapped photos as the hundreds of graduates proceeded across the stage — at times the scene resembled more of a concert than a staid graduation.
Wilkinson used her remarks to point out the wisdom that many of the young men and women had shared with underclassmen on a wall outside that school’s guidance office.
“Anybody who walks by these words cannot walk away without being inspired,” Wilkinson said. “No matter how big the mountain in front of you, remember that sometimes mountains turn into grains of sands. Thank you Elizabeth, you inspire me.”
“Don’t look down on others, no one is that tall.”
“The world is beautiful and so are you.”
“To the class of 2016, my heartfelt thank you, you inspire me,” Wilkinson said. “Now let’s hand out some diplomas.”
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.