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Class of 2013 graduates 108 from Potsdam Central School

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POTSDAM - While 108 students graduated from Potsdam Central School on Friday night, one of the speakers, class President Cassondra L. McCormick, took a moment to remember two students who weren’t in attendance, but undoubtedly were there in spirit.

“We have been through tragedy, not just individually, but together. We have lost two people that should be here with us today, Dalton and Christian,” Ms. McCormick said referring to classmates Dalton Guyette and Christian House. “I’m sure you can ask any of my classmates to share a story about Dalton or Christian and they could come up with one, most likely a funny one.”

And despite their tragic deaths, Ms. McCormick said both Dalton and Christian are just as much members of the class as anyone else.

“Like anyone on this stage, they add to the character of this class as a whole,” she said. “As members of the Class of 2013, we will always carry their memory in our hearts.”

Ms. McCormick also spoke about her classmates that were on stage and noted that the “calling card” for this year’s class was its “high level of creativity” and “never-ending energy to challenge authority.”

Speaking on the latter, she said, “The Class of 2013 managed to circumvent every single policy meant to ensure our health, emotional safety, and general welfare, as well as obstruct all attempts to create a nurturing learning environment.”

Giving some examples, she continued, “The grinding policy anyone? What about the homework policy, where the immortal phrase, ‘I’ll take a 50,’ came from. Kaylee Peck can personally attest to the strenuous attendance policy. The hat and electronic device policy were also subject to constant debate.”

And while Ms. McCormick said she was thankful for the education she received at Potsdam, she noted that its very unlikely anyone will remember everything they’ve learned in the school’s hallowed halls.

“What’s even more valuable than the education we received were the memories we managed to make along the way,” she said. The fact of the matter is we will not be able to remember everything, but hopefully we will remember the important stuff. How to be a good friend, how to be self-sufficient and how to help your future children survive high school.”

Although many graduation speeches include the speaker talking about how high school was the best time of their life, Ms. McCormick said nothing against Potsdambut she really hopes that’s not the case.

“I hope the past few years will not end up being the best years of your life. I wouldn’t wish that on my greatest enemy,” she said. “If Regents exams and high school drama characterize the best years of your life, there is something seriously wrong.”

She continued, “I hope you all flourish in your own hopes and dreams, whether it means owning a day care or a Fortune 500 company. I hope the memories you make in your adult lives make all those 6 a.m. alarms worth while.”

Valedictorian Kate O. Hildreth used her speech to say thanks and offer some words of wisdom from the late Dr. Seuss.

“I would like to begin by thanking our superintendent, members of the Board of Education, and the principals of the three schools in our district,” she said. “A big thank you as well to friends, family, and members of the community. It’s a pleasure to share this night with you. And of course thank you to members of the Class of 2013.”

As for the words of Dr. Seuss, she read in its entirety, a commencement address he once gave at Lake Forest College.

“My uncle ordered popovers from the restaurant’s bill of fare. And when they were served, he regarded them with a penetrating stare. Then he spoke great words of wisdom as he sat there on that chair. ‘To eat these things,’ said my uncle, ‘you must exercise great care. You may swallow down what’s solid, but you must spit out the air! And as you partake of the world’s bill of fare, that’s darned good advice to follow. Do a lot of spitting out the hot air. And be careful what you swallow.’”

After sharing Dr. Seuss’ speech, she offered her own words of advice.

“Don’t base your life around somebody else’s ideas. Make your own.”

Salutatorian Rhea LaFleur said one year ago she decided she was ready to leave Potsdam, but this year she came to the realization she might not be as ready as she thought.

“About a year ago, I decided I would be on this stage tonight instead of in the audience. Of course I was ready. I was surely self-disciplined enough, I was ambitious, and I spent a full two weeks away at summer camp, so I was obviously independent enough,” she said. “It took me all of three months to realize I didn’t feel ready, not even close.”

She continued, “Why wasn’t I ready? For 15 years I overlooked Potsdam’s charms, but in this last year I began to appreciate them.”

Growing up in Potsdam, Ms. LaFleur said she was frequently bored and knew she wanted to live in the a big city, noting she still has that dream. “So why would I regret leaving this small, rural town? I think the answer lies in one of my mother’s tacky knickknacks,” she said. “The one most prominently displayed is in our front hall, near the doorway, and reads, ‘Home is where your story begins.’ As much as I wanted to leave Potsdam, the people here made it my home.”

Noting she’s still not sure if she’s ready to leave, she, as well as her classmates, can take solace in knowing they can always come back home to Potsdam.

She then closed her speech with a quote from Shel Silverstein, “There are no happy endings. Endings are the saddest part. So just give me a happy middle, and a very happy start.”

Students weren’t the only ones imparting words of wisdom.

Superintendent Patrick H. Brady noted the challenges this year’s graduates are facing are different than the ones their parents had to tackle.

“Your generation, like those before you, has its own unique circumstances,” he said. “Many of the jobs open to you did not even exist when your parents were born. It is likely you will move around more, work in a service occupation and compete in a global network. These are exciting times with breaking technology and tremendous opportunity for those willing to work hard.”

Mr. Brady then shared some words from former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, “Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts.”

Principal JoAnn Chambers also shared her memories of the class in a speech that included each one of the 108 graduates names.

“The story of the Potsdam High School Class of 2013 is like that of no other,” she said. “It’s a story filled with characters more unique than any author could conjure up.”

The year’s commencement address came from Geoffrey Coleman, a high school math teacher, elected by the students to speak to their class.

Mr. Coleman, who spoke off the cuff without prepared remarks, said he was flabbergasted by the honor and compared it to a time in high school when a few days before the class elections a student he described as a “dirt bag” decided to launch a write-in campaign for class president and out of curiosity many students in the class voted for him and he won.

“Then something funny happened. He changed and matured and ended up being a very good president. He may have gone to an Ivy League School,” he said. “Maybe they’re hoping for the same thing to happen tonight.”

Mr. Coleman said graduations aren’t events that he would normally attend.

“I didn’t go to my own high school graduation,” he said. “You would think I would have a good excuse like I was ill or something, but I fell asleep.”

Mr. Coleman, who is the father of five boys, said he did attend each of their graduations.

“I did go to the one for each of my own kids when they graduated, but it’s not like I wanted to go,” he said with a laugh. “They didn’t want me to go either.”

Mr. Coleman also used his speech as an opportunity to talk about education reform, noting that he thinks it’s ridiculous that teacher’s aren’t allowed to grade their own Regents exams anymore.

“They don’t trust us. They don’t trust the teachers. They think we’re going to cheat,” he said. “You know why they think that way? Because they’re politicians and that’s what they do.”

He also noted the state, despite not having enough money to adequately fund education, seems to think a way to improve its education system is to pay teachers more money.

“You can double my salary, and it’s not going to make me a better teacher,” he said. “You can cut it in half, and I’m not going to do any worse.”

He then explained another new initiative, in which, teachers who are considered exemplary can qualify for a $15,000 stipend each year for three years by helping to mentor young teachers.

“They think if I go to colleges where students are studying to be teachers some magic will rub off on them,” he said, also referencing a proposal where students who want to teach must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in order to become certified, noting his GPA of 2.96 would have left him on the outside looking in.

“It’s not grades that make great teachers. It’s a passion for learning,” he said, noting that passion is something he has.

“Work is a vacation for me,” he said. “I say that and I mean it. The best thing I can hope for all of you is that when you’re 54, you feel the same way and when people ask you when you’re going to retire you can laugh in their face.”

In order to get that feeling though, Mr. Coleman said passion is the key.

“If you’re the son of a doctor and a lawyer, but for some reason you have a passion for plumbing, you should be a plumber,” he said. “You shouldn’t be afraid.”





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