DUANESBURG -- It only took about 15 minutes Friday night for members of the Duanesburg class of 2019 to each receive their diplomas, the parade of student names that in other districts can take over an hour.
But the students in Duanesburg are close, and each student stood after receiving the diploma, waiting patiently for their classmates to join them. From Austin Adams to Katherine Zapotocki, the 62 graduates quickly were all on their feet, bursting to celebrate. After class president Astrid Marz gave them the nod, the graduates shifted their tassels, hugged their friends and pumped their fists – and diplomas – in the air.
Not long before, family and friends had packed the school's new Joe Bena Auditorium, and the graduates streamed into the hall a pair at a time, each student taking time to savor the moment. They received flowers from a special person as they took their seat on stage.
“We did this together, in this community, or we wouldn't have been able to otherwise,” Marz told her classmates.
The student speakers reflected on their long journeys through Duanesburg schools – 34 of the graduates started in the district in kindergarten – and envisioned the paths that were about to set out on. They recalled the warnings their eighth-grade teachers gave to their ninth-grade teachers; they remembered that tire swing and building log houses. Thirty-seven of the graduates are off to college in the fall; four are joining the military; three have jobs waiting for them.
Hanna Avery, the class salutatorian and a graduation speaker, reflected on losing her father to heroin addiction when she was just 14 years old. For many years, she wished she could turn back time and make things different, but there is no time machine, she said. Instead, she came to understand that “we don't see the impacts of actions before it's too late.” Value your independence and freedom and remember that your choices matter, she told her classmates.
“We have the freedom of choice. We can choose to be great or we can choose to let ourselves fall,” Avery said. “We all have our struggles, our tragic flaws, our bad days ... but remember this, it's not the hardships that make the person but what we do with the situation that does.”
The 62 graduates represent a high school graduation rate of about 98 percent, Superintendent Frank Macri said. Addressing the students, Macri urged them to consider what their names would come to mean to themselves and other people. Your parents gave you that name, he said before those names were listed one by one. But, he told them, but it's up to them to define what that name will come to stand for.
“Although given your name, each of you had the choice of defining what your name means,” Macri said. “Continue to be learners, define your name.”
Once the graduations start, they keep coming. Next week, thousands of high school seniors across the region will become high school graduates as they flow across stages at Proctors, SPAC and elsewhere. But Duanesburg was the first public school district in the region to graduate their seniors.
Jacob Harris, class valedictorian, noted the challenges his Asperger's syndrome presented him as a young student and the aides who helped him through school. But eventually he asked that he receive less time with the aides; he felt he had become overly reliant on them and wanted to prove his merits on his own. It was now time for his classmates to do the same and strike out on their own, he said.
“We will leave home, fight the forces in the world that seek to destroy our individuality, and we will inevitably win,” Harris said.