By MAUREEN PICHÉ
ST. REGIS FALLS –– The 26 students comprising the Class of 2014 at St. Regis Falls High School seemed more like a family than a group of classmates as they sat together on the auditorium stage at their commencement exercises Friday night.
There were tears and laughs from both the graduates and the audience there to celebrate with them as each student got a chance to shine, both on stage and in an elaborate video that was shown during the ceremony.
Also very much a presence, in spirit, was their former classmate Brady Lee Frazier, who died as the result of a baseball injury in 2010 when he was in eighth grade. He was remembered by speakers, in the class video, and through a special sign given to the school by the Class of 2014 and soon to be hung in the parking lot.
Valedictorian Brandon Votra used his speech to thank all those who helped his class make it to graduation day, especially family and school staff.
“Lucky for us, St. Regis Falls is a tight-knit community that watches out for its own,” Mr. Votra said. “Because of our parents, teachers and community, we have thrived.”
Mr. Votra recalled the struggles he and his classmates had gone through over the years, most especially the loss of their eighth-grade classmate Frazier.
“Once again, our parents, teachers and the entire SRF community stood by us, and somehow we made it through together,” he said.
He pointed out the district had named 2014 the Year of Perseverance, as made evident by a banner hanging in the school.
“It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized how truly fitting it was that they dedicated this year to the Year of Perseverance. In fact, I don’t think there’s a word in the English language that exemplifies this class any better,” he said. “Not only has each and every one of us persevered throughout our academics, no matter how hard they may have been at times, but we have also endured through every curve ball life has thrown our way. Together, we have become stronger.”
Salutatorian Megan McDonald used quotes and characters from movies to talk about life lessons she’s learned.
“It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small. And fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all. It’s time to see what I can do to test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free,” Ms. McDonald said, reciting lyrics from the animated movie “Frozen.”
“Once you get out there in the real world, you can be wherever you want to be and nobody can stop you from doing it,” she said.
“My classmates and I are going to learn that once we graduate from here, nothing is going to matter about high school anymore,” she said. “We are going to learn that people don’t care who was most popular, who had the nicest clothes, and so on. We’re going to be whoever we want to be, and nobody is going to stop us.”
The student-chosen special guest speaker, science teacher Rebecca Munn, had fond memories of watching the students progress through the years.
“They have influenced me as much or more than I could have ever influenced them,” she said. “These guys hold a special place in my heart, and probably have no idea how much they’ve added to my life along the way.”
Ms. Munn shared some “pearls of wisdom” with the students, reminding them to enjoy the moment and buckle up for what life brings.
“Enjoy this moment, because it’s only going to get harder and more complicated from here on out,” she said. “Though life is full of pressure, it’s intense pressure that makes diamonds. And you guys have made me proud as I see you shining before all of us here today.
“Be a leader, not a boss,” Ms. Munn said. “Lead by example. Be honest and trustworthy in all that you do. I promise you, good breeds good.”
Ms. Munn also told the students there’s more to the world than their hometown.
“Never quench your thirst for knowledge and adventure,” she said. “We all have a gift to share with the world. Now it’s your job to figure out what that is. There’s always something new to explore, so as you leave high school, continue to be a lifelong learner.
“Explore new places, meet new people. St. Regis Falls is a beautiful place full of familiar people who love you, who have watched you prosper and begin to reach your full potential. However, it’s not the only place full of beauty and wonderful people. Keep an open mind and dream big enough to scare you,” she added.
The class presented their class advisor Patricia Godreau-Sexton with flowers and a gift. They also gave members of their family in the audience individual flowers to thank them for their support.
Many scholastic awards and recognitions were given out to the students as well during the ceremony. Following graduation, a reception and slideshow were held in the gym.