SARATOGA — Rain didn't dampen the spirits of more than 700 Shenendehowa students as they proudly walked across the stage at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to receive their high school diplomas.
The amphitheater at SPAC was packed on Friday afternoon with the friends and the families of the graduating class of 2017. Some student speakers pointed out that, while the four-year process at times felt long and arduous, and that school was sometimes the very last place they wanted to go, they came away from the experience with a profound bond. Senior class co-presidents Jillian Shippee and Gianna Valenti commended the many different school groups, including the athletes, artists, and student performers, for contributing to a strong class identity and helping to foster a feeling of family.
But the students weren't the only ones saying their final goodbyes to the district. Principal Don Flynt, who will be retiring at the end of June after a decade at Shen, urged the students during his address to embrace change and the new challenges that come with college and life after high school. Describing the students as, "bright, gifted, and imaginative," he told them that they are a group of young citizens that many people will soon look to for guidance.
"You are the children, and now you are the adults that we dreamed about," he said. "You are shooting stars."
But, Flynt added, a goodbye doesn't necessarily equal a permanent end.
"You will always have a home at Shenendehowa," he added.
District Superintendent Oliver Robinson echoed Flynt in his remarks, recommending that the students not be afraid of change. He told the graduates that they were, "made for a time like this," and that their difference and unique abilities and passions would ultimately be the things that make their lives rich and exciting.
"Imagine the unimaginable," he said,"and go for it."
Tim LaRose, vice-president of the senior class, was also excited about the many paths that would be in front of all of the graduates as soon as they left the ceremony.
"We can't be afraid of change, because it's coming our way," he said. LaRose asked that, just for a moment, the audience and graduates ignore the fact that rain was pouring down outside, and try to picture instead a bright, clear, limitless day in a world that he said every graduate should be excited to dive into and take advantage of.
"The world we live in is stunning," he said.
The graduates had the same amount of praise for the district, and demonstrated their support and gratitude by leaving behind a number of significant parting gifts. Student government officials announced that they would be renovating the high school's student-teacher work spaces to make them more modern, comfortable, and conducive to collaboration. The class will also institute an annual $500 scholarship to be awarded to a graduating senior who embodies the collaborative spirit of the class of 2017. The students will also leave behind $2,500 for the class of incoming freshman to start next year with, along with money for Flynt to donate to a charity of his choice.
Parker Hill, one of the two class salutatorians, played the Spider-Man theme song as he began his address. Joking that people had always likened him to the part-spider superhero, he assured his fellow graduates that they were all just as deserving as a superhero nickname as he was.
"Everyone has a role to play," he told his peers. "We are smart, strong, and unbreakable."