SARATOGA SPRINGS — Graduation kicked into high gear Thursday, with a pair of commencement ceremonies at Saratoga Performing Arts Center during the day and a third in the evening at Proctors in Schenectady.
Private schools around the region have already held their commencements. Now the public schools are in the spotlight, with Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Ballston Spa and Niskayuna beginning a three-day wave of graduations.
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake
For the 278 members of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s senior class, their ceremony on Thursday commenced at noon.
After an opening speech by class vice president Alexander Gigliotti, salutatorian Jennifer Hagadorn and Valedictorian Bernard Darling each addressed their class with advice to take with them as they begin the next phase of their lives.
Hagadorn, who will be attending Clemson University this fall, spoke about change.
“If we let our fears and our sense of comfort keep us from looking towards the future and welcoming it with open arms, we are sure to miss out on great things to come,” she said.
Hagadorn, who admitted herself that she is afraid of change, also spoke to leaving BH-BL and transitioning into a bigger world.
“As amazing as our tightly-knit community is, we shouldn’t be afraid to look beyond it. After all, the whole world is out there waiting for us, ready for all of us to leave our marks on it,” she said.
Darling, headed to Clarkson University next year, compared moving on from high school to something he is familiar with: a jazz solo. He said that as soon as the Class of 2017 is handed their diplomas, they will be beginning their own solos through life. His advice to his class is to “never cease your solo because of your mistakes, because from mistakes come experience.”
Dating to the 1980s, graduating classes of BH-BL hand a dollar bill to the superintendent as they go on stage to collect their diplomas. Before graduation, the class decides where the money will go. In the past, it has gone to a specific community member or a charity.
This year is no different. The Class of 2017 decided that the money they collect will be going to Elainna Taplin, a member of the Class of 2017 who was paralyzed from the neck down after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome this spring. Guillain-Barré is a disorder that causes one’s immune system to attack its nerves.
After speeches by Hagadorn and Darling, High School Principal Timothy Brunson and Superintendent Patrick McGrath Jr. each spoke about the Class of 2017. Brunson pointed out the accomplishments of the senior class this year, while McGrath spoke about the impact the Class of 2017 has had on the community.
“The only thing we can do wrong at this point is to give up pursuing our goals,” said Class President Kyle Farmer, who gave the closing speech.
“I’m excited to be able to go into the world and start my life,” said new graduate Sam Marchant after the ceremony.
High School Principal Kristi Jensen described Ballston Spa’s graduating class as the “most focused, college-and-career ready class [I] have ever seen” in her opening speech at the high school graduation at SPAC, which began at 4 p.m.
The Class of 2017 included 306 students taking part in Ballston Spa’s 140th commencement.
Following Jensen’s speech was the Student Council address given by Kara Woitkoski, speeches by salutatorian Ryan Madcharo and valedictorian Emma Benson, and the presentation of the class gift by graduating senior Clayton Bennice.
In his speech, Madcharo recapped the journey of the Class of 2017 since they stepped onto a school bus on their first day of kindergarten. He split up the past 13 years of their education into five trials: the Trial of the Flesh, the Trial of Skill, the Trial of Courage, the Trial of Spirit, and the Trial of Insight. Coincidentally, the trials he mentioned also happen to be the trials one must go through to become a Jedi Knight -- for those not familiar with "Star Wars" lore.
According to Madcharo, the last trial, the Trial of Insight, is graduation. He advised his class to “enjoy graduation. Don’t simply pass through it.”
Benson, who in addition to graduating from high school also turned 18 on Thursday.“You have one job," she said. "That job is to be unapologetically yourself.”
Kevin Schaefer, president of the Board of Education, and Superintendent Dr. Joseph Dragone also addressed the graduates.
Dragone spoke about the challenges that the Class of 2017 will face in the future. "Be yourself, and when your self wants to venture down a new path, do not be afraid,” he said.
“It’s not what you are, it’s who you are,” he added.