SCHENECTADY -- Three dozen Schenectady High School students joined the ranks of the Class of 2018 Thursday morning.
The August graduates, who finished class credits and Regents exams that were still incomplete at the end of the regular school year, lifted the district’s graduation rate from around 60 percent in June to about 63 percent, Principal Diane Wilkinson said.
After they walked the stage of the high school auditorium in their red and blue gowns, earning the cheers and smiles of family and friends present for the annual summer commencement ceremony, the new graduates described the hurdles they overcame on their way to a diploma.
Nawaf Hassan and his family moved to Schenectady from Yemen four years ago; when he arrived as a new student, he spoke hardly any English, he said.
“I was like a baby just born – no words,” Hassan said.
He called out his English as a second language teacher for special thanks and said the teachers in the school worked with him patiently as he struggled with a new language. He often had to ask a teacher to repeat a question or something they said; they stayed with him all the way, he said.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the teachers,” he said. “When I say a lot – they helped me a lot.”
Deaja Spencer, born and raised in Schenectady, said she plans to study cosmetology and wants to move to New York City. She said walking across the stage and receiving her diploma made her feel accomplished and satisfied. She cautioned younger students to keep up with their school work, if they want a more enjoyable senior year.
“Get as many credits as you can at the beginning,” she said. “That way, when senior year comes, you don’t have to do as much work and you can graduate on time.”
Students graduating in August had to overcome problems with attendance and the stress of school, but they also represent the school’s efforts to meet the individual needs of students and keep them on track to graduate as soon as they enroll as freshmen.
“To get to today, I know they had to fight and believe in themselves,” Wilkinson told the graduates. “Today may have been your biggest lesson yet. You have learned to know that you can do it and to never let someone tell you, ‘You can’t.’”
Ryan Skolnick said struggles with depression and anxiety set him back as he worked his way through high school. The stress caused him to miss school days, so he fell behind on credit hours, forcing him to attend summer school. But with the help of family and friends, he said, he powered through sleepless summer nights to earn his degree.
“You work toward your goals no matter what happens – good or bad,” he said. “Just fight it. Make good friends and fight it. Fight for what you want. Do it for your family. Do it for your friends. Do it for yourself.”
Arthur King used one word to describe how he felt after earning his diploma: “Relief.”
King said he plans to continue school, studying business or sports management. He also said he wished he had missed fewer days of school – crediting his absences to “laziness” -- and advised younger students to keep up with school from the beginning.
“Go to school on time,” he said. “If you don’t, you’re gonna' regret it.”
Urging the new graduates to remember what they learned in Schenectady, school board President John Foley highlighted a saying posted on the walls of the Mont Pleasant Middle School auditorium: “Enter to learn. Go forth to serve.”
“Our country and this city are in as great of need of your services today as when that motto was first placed in the auditorium at Mont Pleasant Middle School,” he told the graduates.