CLIFTON PARK — "We did indeed, start at the bottom. And now it looks like we're all here," said outgoing senior Dallas Jones of the Shenendehowa Central School District as he faced almost 800 of his peers at the district's commencement ceremony on Thursday afternoon.
Jones was, in his speech, quoting a song from the rapper Drake titled, "Started From The Bottom," which elicited laughs from the hundreds of students listening to him, but Jones' speech also touched on what ultimately became a larger theme in the district's graduation ceremony: students prepared to be the sole architects of their own future, whatever direction they wanted to go in.
Specifically, there were 772 graduates who walked across the stage on Thursday.
In his speech, Jones touched on what had personally helped him succeed throughout his high school years, specifically pointing to his family.
A strong support system, he said, is what pushed him and his peers to keep asking questions, to try harder and to get back up and try again if they failed, or made a mistake.
It is this support system and the learned perseverance, he added, that will enable the members of Shen's 2019 graduating class to do anything they put their minds to.
"We are destined for greatness. This class can light up the world," he said.
The graduation ceremony was a flood of green and white robes trekking down to the amphitheater of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, as parents, friends and family member swarmed the lines of students to grab a photo of their graduate.
Courtney Golden, salutatorian, also applauded parents and teachers in her upbeat speech, but pointed out, as Jones did, that the path to the future is up to each of the students.
Whether it's taking a year off, going straight to college, entering the workforce or doing something else, she said, Shen had provided them all with the tools needed to succeed in any arena. The students, she said, had come a long way from playing on the playground in elementary school.
"Our moment has arrived. We can create ourselves, and our futures. Now we stand at the gates of the playground of life, and Shen has given us the key, our diplomas," Golden said.
Valedictorian Emily Wang took a more personal approach in her speech, though she too told her peers that whatever happened next was up to them.
Wang explained that, during her time in high school, she had developed a fascination with the theory of parallel universes. For each decision she made in her life, she said, she wondered if there was another universe in which her choice and path had been different. She had wondered, she said, if in another universe she had made better decisions that had led to mistakes in the universe she lived in.
"I was preoccupied with what I could have done differently," she said.
Eventually though, she realized that she would never have a chance to enjoy her life if she constantly obsessed about past decisions, or about what might happen in the future. Everyone makes mistakes, she said, and she and the other new graduates would surely make mistakes in the future. But, she added, the most important thing they can do is remember to enjoy the moment that they're in.
"Life is not a possibility. Life is now. Live every day," she said.
High school Principal Ron Agostinoni lauded what he called the students' capacity to adapt, be open minded, and learn from the changing world around them. At the conclusion of graduation, he said, every student present would be faced with a blank slate and the chance to change the world, in whatever way they saw fit.
"All of us here today celebrate you," he said.
"Be bold. Be confident. Be resolute in your actions," district Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said in an impassioned address to the gradfuates. "Pursue excellence with reckless abandon. Go face the world. Go face the world with your eyes wide open."