PARISVHILLE - Both the valedictorian and salutatorian of this year’s graduating class at Parisvhille-Hopkinton High School were students who moved to the district in the midst of the academic careers.
But as they prepared to end their high school careers both young men said they couldn’t have imagined graduating from anywhere else.
Valedictorian Eric D. Hannon moved to the district in the fifth grade, but in his commencement address noted the school helped turn him into the man he is today.
“I know for a fact that this school has changed me - definitely for the better,” he said. “But it wasn’t always easy.”
Mr. Hannon recalled his first day at the school, noting his family had moved to the area “from a much larger district.
“I walked into Ms. (Pamela) Blevins’ (Todd) classroom on the first day of fifth grade scared to death. Everyone there had known each other since kindergarten, whereas I knew no one,” he said. “Their friendships were already made, their enemies were already chosen, and they knew everyone else’s friends and enemies. I knew nothing of Parishville-Hopkinton and remained ‘that new kid’ for a quite a while.’”
However as winter came and snow piles began to form, Mr. Hannon said he had enough of being the new kid, enough of eating lunch alone and enough of still sitting on the swings and going down the slide - as a fifth grader. The turning point, he said, was a game of king of the hill.
“King of the hill is a game where you climb up a hill, surprisingly, and try to remain at the top for as long as possible while other kids try to get up there and push you off,” he said. “It was a game all about power, perseverance and awareness. You force your way up to the top, pulling on the people above you and pushing on the people below you. All that matters is the peak, where only one can remain as king.”
He continued, “King of the hill was played on one of the many snow piles that the north country was gracious enough to provide. When recess came, those snow piles became our playground. Well, their playground. Being the new kid at the time, I kept to myself, remaining one of the few fifth graders who still occupied swings and slides,” he said.
“But eventually I decided enough was enough. Leaving the swings and slides I stepped toward the hill, ready to finally join the group. Without really saying a word I began to force my way to the top, pulling on the people above me and pushing on the people below me. I ignored the cold, wet snow. I pretended not to feel the small bruises. I can’t remember who was all there or the exact details of what happened, but I do remember having fun.”
The next day Mr. Hannon said he received an invitation to sit at a lunch table with some other people and the rest, as they say, is history.
“There are two lessons that I believe you can take from this and I hope they remain with you throughout your life,” he said. “The first lesson is this: Try new things. If I never played king of the hill, I don’t think I would be where I am today. Having friends at school gave me something to look forward to and kept me interested in returning each day to learn something new.”
The second lesson, he said is to accept people.
“It takes two people to make a friend, the one who tries and takes the risk and the one who accepts him or her for doing so,” he said. “So as you leave Parishville-Hopkinton and join the rest of the world, I hope you are all met with success. Every one in a while play a game of king of the hill, metaphorically of course, as it is now considered ‘too dangerous.’ Even more importantly, never forget to expand your lunch table. Be aware, persevere, take that risk and be accepting. You can make a difference in someone’s life. After all, you did for me.”
Salutatorian Michael Burns moved to the district a few years later, and he said he also remembers going through a few days of school as the new kid.
“As a kid growing up in Massena, I never thought I would end up in Parisvhille,” he said. “I didn’t even know where Parishville was, so coming into Parishville-Hopkinton in the ninth grade, I didn’t know what to expect.”
Mr. Burns said he remembers going to class for the first few days of school and then remembers people slowing beginning to talk to him.
“People didn’t really know me, but after a few days people started to talk to me. I specifically remember one question I was asked,” he said. “That question was, ‘Do you play soccer?’ Well as a person coming from Massena, you mainly think of baseball, basketball, hockey and football as major sports. So as you would assume, my answer was a synonym for, ‘No, who plays soccer?’
And while Mr. Burns didn’t join the school’s soccer team, he said he did learn many things and create many memories.
Mr. Burns also shared some advice with his classmates.
“After today each and every one of us graduates are heading on our own way. Some of us will stay in contact, but we all have our own individual journeys ahead. Whether we will be college, the immediate work force, or taking a break for a while, each of us graduates has some sort of idea for our future,” he said. “Now even though each of us has an ‘idea,’ it doesn’t mean it will happen exactly how we planned it. But that’s the best part.
“Not knowing our future keeps our lives interesting and keeps us thinking, ‘I wonder what is going to be my life story.’” he said. “This is where we need to stop thinking and wondering about the future and live life now.”
Mr. Burns concluded his speech with a quote from Mark Twain that summarized his comments.
“Twenty years from now, you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the things you did to,” he said.
Class President Reed Donovan also spoke to his classmates, noting that with kindergarten included they just wrapped up 13 years or approximately 2,340 school days worth of work.
“These numbers are just that, numbers. They cannot even begin to appropriately represent our lives here at PHCS, which has been a home to us on good and bad days for the majority of our lives so far,” he said. “During our time here, we as individuals and a class have accomplished so much that I simply cannot cover them all in this speech, so as I say the ones I’ve selected I want you to think about your own high school experience and be proud of all that you have accomplished yourself.”
Mr. Donovan then listed several accomplishments. “Now you might have noticed that none of these achievements are about grades, and that’s because high school and college shouldn’t just be focused on grades,” he said. “Yes, they are important and you should strive to do the best that you are capable of, but the social interactions are equally important. They are what define us as who we are as individuals.”
Shawn P. Spriggs gave his students three pieces of advice during his address to the class.
“Consider staying in Northern New York, but leave for a while. It’s a big country in a big world,” he said. “Find a place where they’ve never heard of Parisvhille, which shouldn’t be too difficult.”
Mr. Spriggs also told students to develop relationships with the people they meet.
“Charles Wheelan does research on what makes people have and he notes we have neutral or negative relationships with 99 percent of people that we meet,” he said. “Only 1 percent of the people you meet you will develop deep, long lasting relationships with, and this, according to Wheelan is what makes people the happiest.”
His final piece of advice could be considered somewhat unorthodox.
“Don’t try to be great... be solid,” he said. “Be solid in the classroom, solid in the workplace and have a solid character.”