NORFOLK - From mechanical engineering and the ministry to an aspiring rap artist, the Norwood-Norfolk Central School Class of 2014 featured a diverse group of graduates Saturday night.
Fifty-nine students participated in the district’s commencement exercises Saturday at SUNY Potsdam’s Hosmer Hall.
Superintendent James Cruikshank kicked off the speeches with an admittedly brief message.
Mr. Cruikshank, who was taking part in his first graduation for the district, quoted William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
“‘This above all else; to thine own self be true.’ It was the king’s consul, Polonius, offering fatherly advice to his own son before he returned to France. To thine own self be true, or in common language, be true to yourself - to what you believe in your heart is right,” he said. “This is my message - be true to yourself.”
Mr. Cruikshank noted the importance of “staying the course” when faced with obstacles and not to be swayed by fads.
“However, this goes beyond having the courage of your convictions. I want the convictions of the members of this class to be sound and decent. Be true to yourself - to what you believe in your heart is right,” he said.
“But what is right? That’s what you need to decide on your own. I caution that a thief may believe that it is right to steal; a corrupt politician may believe it is right to accept favors for influence; a man may believe the end justifies the means and all tyrants believe they are right. So, what is right?”
The first-year superintendent said that doing right is not a simple task, but for him it is centered around the golden rule of only doing to others what you would accept done to you.
Senior speeches were delivered by valedictorian Gabrielle Cole, salutatorian Cadence Hunkins and class president Dayna Bellardini.
The ceremony also included remarks from board of education President Jon Hazen and business education teacher Jeffrey Reyome.
Mr. Hazen noted he had graduated from Norwood-Norfolk 50 years ago.
Mr. Reyome was selected by the seniors to be the guest speaker Saturday.
“I would like to give you a few words of wisdom from the great Steve Jobs, Apple co-founder. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact. Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you,” he said. “Each member of the Class of 2014 has something to offer society. Each of your journeys will be different and personal. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all.’ You will each need to do what is best for you.”
He stressed a student’s past does not determine their future and urged them to be catalysts and leaders for the future graduating classes.
He concluded his message with one final question.
“The question that I want you to ask yourself repeatedly is ‘What is my definition?’ Then think about ‘How do I want people to define me?’ So what is your definition? Time will tell,” Mr. Reyome said.
The commencement ceremony also included a senior song performed by graduates Emily Johnson, Kyler MacIntire and Robert Bendt. There was also an emotional slideshow presentation, created by Ms. Cole, Ms. Hunkins and Ms. Bellardini.
Dozens of scholarships were awarded to the students and diplomas were handed out by Mr. Hazen.
In the process of constructing her final message to her classmates, Ms. Cole admitted to having much trouble.
She found her answer though while going through some old childhood belongings and rediscovering a book that her godmother had given to her when she was born.
“As I read the book, I was surprised to find such inspirational message in a book meant for toddlers. As soon as I read it I knew that I had found my muse for my graduation speech, and for that, I thank my godmother, Karen. Thank you for everything you have done for me. Thank you for taking me under your wing, for always thinking of me and for loving me unconditionally,” she said.
Ms. Cole dedicated her speech to Karen, who was her school’s valedictorian as well.
The book with this powerful message - Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Place You’ll Go!”
“The book starts out by saying ‘Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!’ And with that I say, congratulations to my fellow classmates. We did it. We have been waiting for this day for years and years and now it’s finally here,” Ms. Cole said. “For years our paths have been guided and our hands have been held. We haven’t had to decide much for ourselves, but that’s starting to change. It’s our time to choose our destiny and begin our journey.”
Ms. Hunkins also said she had trouble writing her speech, but found help with the material from an article titled “What Students Really Need to Hear.”
The article was written by high school teacher, trainer and instructional coach Chase Mielke.
“He wrote this article at 4 a.m. because he hadn’t been able to sleep due to his worries about students and he felt the need to write down what his students really needed to hear. ... Mielke talks about pushing through school and not giving up,” Ms. Hunkins said.
“One thing he said which stuck with me was, ‘The main event is pulling your crap together and making hard choices and sacrifices when things seem impossible. It is finding hope in the hopeless, courage in the chasm, guts in the grave.’”
Ms. Hunkins said that while not all of her graduating classmates were the same, they share a common trait - perseverance.
“We all at one point or another felt like giving up and calling it quits. But our parents, friends, teachers, or even ourselves, told us that we need to keep going,” she said. “There were people doubting (us) at times thinking some of us would never pull it off. But hey, look at us now. We made it.”