By OLIVIA PEPE
BRUSHTON — A total of 69 students took their last steps as students inside the walls of the Brushton-Moira Central High School gymnasium Friday as they, along with World War II veteran Dick Jones, received their diplomas.
Graduates heard tales of what life will be like for them outside the walls of the school they’ve gotten to know over the years from William Webber, a 2011 BMC alumni.
Mr. Webber told the graduates that anyone can make their dreams come true, even coming from a small school such as BMC.
He urged the soon-to-be graduates to get involved in as much as they can in college for the experience and the new friendships.
Mr. Webber said he is currently part of many groups at SUNY Fredonia and has four majors. He also has been inducted into honor societies.
He’s also visited more than 15 different countries overseas and around 35 European cities.
Mr. Webber said he listed the groups and majors he’s in and the places he’s visited “not to brag ... but to tell each and every one of you that this is possible and that dreams really do come true. I grew up in a town just like you, I went to this school district from pre-K to 12th grade just like most of you, I come from very similar socioeconomic backgrounds as most of you. The only reason I was able to do this is simply because I really wanted it.”
He added these goals were achieved through hard work, commitment “and stepping out of my comfort zone” — not handed to him.
Salutatorian Jacob Jacques noted that everyone has their own choices to make and, whether that is to go to college or not “it will the right path for you.”
But Mr. Jacques also noted that if it turns out that the path each individual has chosen turns out not to be right for them, they can always learn from it and change it for the future. “You have to keep pushing through the hard times,” he said.
Valedictorian Veronica Stauffer noted that opportunities should be taken as often as possible and told her classmates to make every day count “because you only get one chance at life.”
However, she noted that no matter the age, young or old, there will always be positive and negative consequences for each and every action taken.
She also thanked on behalf of the class those parents, teachers, mentors and caretakers that pushed them to be who they are and where they are today.
After the speeches were finished, each graduate was called by name and presented his or her diploma, including Mr. Jones, who sat with the class.
Mr. Jones graciously accepted his diploma as Superintendent Donna André handed it to him on Friday.
The gymnasium was filled by cheers from students and those in the audience.
Mr. Jones joined the military when he was only 16 in 1944 and got out of the Marine Corps when he was 21.
“World War II was going on and I wanted to take part in that,” he said at the ceremony Friday.
But because Mr. Jones was only 16 when he enlisted, he first had to be trained as a Merchant Marine — “the civilian part of shipping.”
Ms. André said during this time Mr. Jones “experienced life in a troop ship heading to England. Between Greenland and Great Britain, his ship was attacked by U-boats,” Ms. Andre said in an email. “There were 1,200 troops on his ship.”
She said he returned to the United States in December 1944.
At this time, she said, Mr. Jones was 17 and was able to join the Navy, though at this point, “the war was winding down. He returned home again after the war and was a civilian for a short time before he joined the Marines,” André wrote in her email. “His goal had always been to be a Marine.”
After his discharge from the service, he got a job with a labor union and eventually was able to attend union courses at universities in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio, where his boss sent him.
“This made me wonder what I could have been; a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, the president of the United States? Who knows,” Jones said. “So I would give all you graduates this word of advice: Follow your dreams and be all you can be.”
Mr. Jones said he found out that he could obtain his high school diploma a couple of years ago when he read that another veteran received his diploma at BMC.