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Niskayuna grads receive diplomas, good advice

Niskayuna grads receive diplomas, good advice

Brian Chesky speaks at commencement; late teacher fondly remembered
Niskayuna grads receive diplomas, good advice
Niskayuna seniors prepare for commencement at Proctors on Thursday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
With a turn of the tassel, the Niskayuna High School class of 2017 bid farewell to high school and looked to their futures.
 
To encourage them on their way, Brian Chesky, class of 1999 and co-founder and CEO of Airbnb accepted his induction into the Niskayuna High School Hall of Fame and gave the 329 graduates 10 pieces of advice, 10 things he wished he had known upon his own graduation at the ceremony at Proctors on Thursday night.
 
1. "Do not take career advice from your parents." Chesky urged each student to pursue the path that is right for them and to live their own lives.

2. "Do not do what is most prestigious just because it is the most prestigious."

3. "Listen to your heart."
 
4. "Be curious -- and I’m not talking about drugs," he added as the audience laughed.

5. "Explore."

6. "Be weird. The world does not need more mass-produced people," he said.

7. "You can be anything. I may be looking at a future president,” Chesky said then added, “I just hope you’re not on Twitter.”

8. "Be closer to your parents than your college friends. You might have to move back in with them.”

9. "Look to new industries." Chesky encouraged the students to be open to the possibility that their future may be in a job that doesn’t even exist yet.

10. “Imagine the craziest thing you could do. Then ask, ‘Why wouldn’t you do that?’”
 
Chesky’s speech was made of equal parts honesty, humor and inspiration. The graduates and assembled crowd of parents, friends and family laughed at the irony of Chesky’s yearbook quote. “I’m sure I will amount to nothing.”
 
He recalled feeling invisible in high school. He recounted the kindness and encouragement of his art teacher, Ms. Williams, who pushed him to pursue his passion.
 
“I told my parents I wanted to be an artist,” Chesky said. “They said, ‘Congratulations son, you’ve found the one career that pays worse than social work.’” 
 
Chesky’s parents are both in social work and did indeed support their son as he pursued his career in art, then in business. 
 
Chesky closed his speech by telling the graduates about the first time he saw the escalator at Crossgates mall connecting the movie theater with the rest of the mall. He remembered thinking how large that escalator was.
 
When visiting the mall years later, that escalator did not seem so big.
 
“Did the escalator get smaller?” he asked. “No. My perspective had changed.”
 
He concluded by saying, “We all live with unknown potential. What you think are your limitations are not so limited.”
 
Remembering a beloved teacher

For all the notable people in the room -- graduates, administrators, founders of global companies -- students spent time speaking about and honoring a man who wasn’t in the room -- Mr. Michael Jones.
 
Jones, a beloved Spanish teacher, passed away last fall after a battle with cancer. It was in his name that the class of 2017 presented the school with the class gift, one glass-enclosed bulletin board and two cork bulletin boards to be placed outside of the school’s world languages department with a plaque recognizing Jones’ life and legacy.
 
Class President John Hess opened the commencement ceremonies with a speech in which he, too, gave his class advice, including: Be kind.
 
“Kindness will never go out of style,” Hess said. “We live in very divisive times, but that is not an excuse to treat people with less respect solely because they disagree with you.”
 
He urged his fellow graduates to follow their dreams and to not be deterred by failure. He encouraged his classmates to have faith in themselves and step out of their comfort zones, fearless and ready to face challenges.
 
“Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives,” Hess said. “Let’s do something with them. Carpe diem friends, make your lives extraordinary.”
 
There were many musical performances throughout the ceremony, including choral performances of a school-appropriate version of FUN’s “We Are Young” and a rendition of American Authors’ hit “Best Day of My Life.” 
 
Konrad Drzymalski and Michael Zhou played a dramatic musical duet of Vittorio Monti’s “Czardos,” while Mr. Eric Hughes conducted the Niskayuna High School Symphonic Band for pre-ceremony music, the traditional “Pomp and Circumstance” and other musical offerings.|
 
Per a long-standing tradition, the school flag was passed from the outgoing class to the Class of 2018.
 
Prior to the ceremony, the graduates -- girls in red caps and gowns, boys in silver -- assembled outside Proctors, taking pictures and chatting with a slightly nervous excitement.
 
As they processed into the theater to take their seats in the front rows, proud parents, grandparents and friends waved eagerly.
 
Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr. address the 59th graduating class with remarks including, “Be present. Stay curious. Stay connected.”
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