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NNCS graduates receive advice from their elders


POTSDAM - With a total combined age of well over 150, Saturday evening’s speakers gave the 49 students graduating from Norwood-Norfolk Central a bit of advice from their elders with Superintendent Elizabeth Kirnie, Board of Education President Jon Hazen and High School English Teacher Annalee McCarthy delivering speeches to the graduates.

“I had a strange thought this afternoon,” Mr. Hazen said. “Each year, you 17 and 18-year-olds sit on stage and listen to people older than you give you advice and they’re probably not going to get any older than the three people tonight. One has been retired for 11 years, one will be retired next week and one will be retired next year.”

In his speech Mr. Hazen quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson to give the graduates one final piece of advice.

“Make the most of yourself for that is all there is of you,” he said.

Delivering her final commencement speech, Ms. Kirnie kept her words brief.

“It is impossible to stand before a graduating class and not be overwhelmed with the impulse to give advice, for which I truly apologize, but cannot help myself,” she said. “Don’t worry, all you have to do is listen. There will be no grade; the test is too doggone long. It starts today and takes the rest of your life.”

She continued, “So to make things easier I’ll give you the answer. Ready? Here it is. Live with integrity and wholeness. Be wholly who you are and follow your best true instincts in everything you do. Be the absolute best you in the whole world, ever.”

Ms. McCarthy was elected by the graduating seniors to speak at the ceremony delivering a humorous speech that too, included words of advice.

“The difficulty is not agreeing to be the speaker, the real problem is deciding what to say in was is supposed to be an important speech. It isn’t often that I have this many people willing to listen to me,” she said. “It isn’t very often that I can get one small class of students to listen to me.”

She then reflected back to her own high school graduation.

“I do remember my high school graduation and how excited I was. We had a very small class around the same size as this group and we were probably a little bit better behaved, but not much. It was the 1970s after all,” she said. “I was a bit of an anarchist in high school and was far more interested in the after graduation party than the graduation ceremony itself, so the commencement speaker did not stick in my memory. He talked for a long time, but since I wasn’t paying attention I didn’t learn any great, important life lesson that he may have been trying to convey.”

That being said, Ms. McCarthy decided to keep her speech brief.

“I do remember going home to change for a graduation party later that night and my mother smiling at me, telling me how proud of me she was. ‘How do you feel?’ she asked, and I stopped for a minute to think,” she said. “‘I am excited and happy, but I feel really scared. Everything is so new with going to college and moving away and what will I do for a job and now it is all dumped in my lap. I don’t know what to do about all these important decisions,”’ she recalled telling her mother.

Ms. McCarthy continued, “And she got up to hug me, and with her arms around me called me ‘ma Cherie treasor.’ She called me her treasure, and I remember her words almost exactly, ‘You must learn what to pick up and what to put down, Annalee, welcome to adulthood.’”

She noted she graduated from high school three weeks before turning 18, with her 60th birthday coming up in three weeks.

“It has taken me this long to figure out what my mother meant all those years ago,” she said. “The first part is the easier half. If you are lucky, and very well-loved, there will be someone to pick you up, to give you any amount of support, to keep her arms around you whenever you need it, and then when it is time, give you the greatest gift of love and let you go. That is why all of us are here tonight, to let you go.”

That’s the easy thing to take from her mother’s words, but Ms. McCarthy noted she has since learned those words also had a deeper meaning.

“The very act of letting go means we put down this burden we willingly carried. We put it down and pass it on for you to pick up,” she said. “The big difference between yesterday and tomorrow is yesterday you needed us; tomorrow we will need you.”

She continued, “The big life lesson I am trying to get across is take the time, the focus, the energy to be purposefully kind to others,” she said. “People you love need you. Our country needs you. Our world needs you. There are so many problems out there and knowing you as well as I do, I am confident each of you will be the kind of responsible, intelligent adult always holding your hand out willing to help others.”

For additional coverage of Norwood-Norfolk Central Schools graduation, see Tuesday’s edition of The Daily Courier-Observer.

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