Speakers at the Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons class of 2018 graduation on Saturday spoke about themes of hard work, resilience, moral integrity, embracing the unexpected, and how to overcome the self-imposed nickname of "fat ninja."
The first student to speak was salutatorian Dylan Sawyer, who began his speech with several quotes about the value of hard work, including one from abolitionist Frederick Douglas, who said: "Without struggle, there is no progress; and rapper Wiz Khalifa, who sang: "I've done a lot of work to get where I'm at, but I have to keep working."
Sawyer, who also took home awards for science, English and humanitarianism, amused the packed crowd of students, family members, clergy and school administrators with his own tale of personal development. Sawyer said when he first came to Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons he tried to make friends by using "self deprecating humor."
"Dylan decided that he would be Dylan no longer. He would be the wonderful personality known as "fat ninja."
So, all of the students, and some of the teachers, began to refer to him as fat ninja. This gave him massive popularity, because "nothing springs popularity like everybody calling you a slightly offensive nickname you gave to yourself," he said.
Sawyer said as he got older he became more self conscious about his body and decided to dedicate himself to getting into shape and losing weight. He did this by joining the school's track team, which involved a lot of running and lifting weights.
"The moral of the story is that we have to work to achieve the goals that we want to achieve," he said.
Including the school's two international students, Lorenzo Cavallaro and Matteo Colavita, there were a total of 45 students who graduated at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons' 43rd annual commencement ceremony held at the Church of St. John the Evangelist on Saturday.
Pat Moran, ND-BG's interim principal, told the graduates that he and they will always have at least one thing in common.
"We're both going to share the term Golden Knights forever," he said. "No matter where real life takes you, no matter what you decide to do with the rest of your life, you will always be a Golden Knight."
Moran explained that to be a Golden Knight is more than simply a member of the school's athletic team. He said to be a Golden Knight means having the responsibility to make the world a better place.
"I can say, that after watching this class grow up, not only in size, but in the character of the Golden Knight, they living up to the expectations of the alumni that came before them who set the stage," he said.
Class of 2018 valedictorian Taylor Barber reminded her classmates of the importance of dealing with adversity. She reminded them of their class trip to Six Flags Great Adventure, when it rained.
"After finding out that we weren't going to get a tan, we put on our raincoats and embraced the weather. We got to ride on the same rides two, sometimes three times in a row," she said.
Former Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard was the final speaker to address the class. Hubbard told the class that there are essentially five elements to being resilient: Discover a set of beliefs and hold fast to them; Have a set of values; Remain grounded with a support system of family and friends; Don't beat yourself up; and practice routine meditation, which in the Catholic Church is accomplished through prayer.
Hubbard challenged the students not to adopt an all or nothing approach to success in life. He cited an interview he once heard of retired basketball star Kobe Bryant as an example of the wrong way to look life's challenges.
"He said that 'a year without a championship is a wasted year.' Really? That's not God's view. God doesn't care whether you finish first, second, third, fourth or 404th as long as you give it your best shot," he said.