There’s at least one show at Proctors every year that doesn’t disappoint the crowd and launches many of the actors to long-running careers: Schenectady High School graduation.
The show has it all. Song and dance. Tears of joy and tears of sadness. Beaming smiles and hugs. Colorful outfits – the young women in red and young men in blue – and an explosion of glitter. Selfies and recollections of selfless acts.
The audience members scramble for the best views, phones and cameras ready at hand, and call out to loved ones.
“You get that diploma,” a family member shouted into a wall of noisy celebration Friday. “You go baby,” another said.
But Schenectady High School’s 25th commencement Friday is more than a show: it’s a beginning and an end, a time to recall good memories and envision ones yet to come. Advice flows from speakers, students and adults alike.
Even the valedictorian’s speech took a Broadway twist when instead of heading to the podium top-of-the-class Will Smith, headed to Cornell in the fall, sat down at a piano positioned on stage. He didn’t just write a commencement speech – a staid annunciation of the usual cliches – he wrote a song as a commencement speech.
“People ask me if I am anxious to get out of the place,” Smith sang. “My answer, frankly, is I have no distaste for this place… because Schenectady is my home.”
The overall show was global too. Student speaker Jack O’Brien used a simple message - “Schenectady is my home and we are family” - to underscore a broader message. He was followed by a trio of other students who recited the same message but in different language, including Hindi and Spanish.
School and district leaders implored the students to be active in the defining issues of the day, striving to ask difficult questions, raise challenging topics and, maybe, run for public office.
“Whether you realize it or not, the year 2017 is the year that graduating students 10, 15, 20 years from now will look back and say that was the year your voice mattered,” High School Principal Diane Wilkinson said. “Your voice matters so speak up class of 2017, speak up, carry that legacy you started here at Schenectady High School and carry that into the future”
Nearly 500 students graduated from Schenectady High School on Friday. Superintendent Larry Spring said Thursday he expects the Class of 2017 to post a graduation rate of around 62 percent in June, which will likely rise to between 65 and 67 percent in August. That graduation rate is a slight drop from last year but still the highest in a decade.
Before the students were greeted by family and friends off stage with flowers and hugs and so many pictures, they each took their turn at the center stage. With each graduate’s name arose a roar of support from a different part of the large theater, echoing into the new roar of support. The graduates danced or shuffled their way toward their diplomas, dishing out hugs and handshakes as they crossed the stage.
When they stepped off the main stage, they entered a new phase of their life, one that won’t always go as scripted.
“You can’t just settle for a Plan A,” said Willie Dean, 1998 Schenectady graduate and star athlete who has made a living playing professional basketball across Europe, during his keynote speech. “You have to have a Plan A through Z.”