Niskayuna sent its 60th graduating class off into the world on Thursday, June 21, in a ceremony that featured music, some laughter, a little advice, and a lot of reflection on the thoughtful, engaged citizens that the members of the Class of 2018 have become. Commencement exercises took place at Proctors Theatre in downtown Schenectady, as they do each year.
Class President Olivia Owens, who served as master of ceremonies, welcomed fellow classmates, faculty, family and friends with remarks that highlighted the active role that the class has already played in changing the world, from #MeToo to #EnoughIsEnough. She urged the 343 graduates to “overwhelm” the world with good, building off of a quote from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
“As we prepare to leave Niskayuna High School, we take with us the tools from our teachers, friends, families and experiences,” Owens said. “The tools of empowerment, awareness, strength, unity, community and vigilance. Seniors, incorporate these tools in the next chapter of your lives, and utilize them to make a difference.”
In his remarks, Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra, Jr., also touched on the student activism that characterized this school year across the country. He noted that regardless of where they stood on the political spectrum, Niskayuna students distinguished themselves as leaders in this regard. He urged them to continue to think critically about issues and consider all perspectives.
“I watched with pride as you found your voice and recognized the strength you have. I was impressed with your ability to civilly and respectfully exert your power,” Dr. Tangorra said. “You have the ability to create the world you want, but you must remain informed and engaged in order to make that happen.”
Among the graduates this year was World War II veteran Charles Levesque, receiving his diploma through Operation Recognition, a program that allows veterans who could not complete high school due to military service to receive a diploma. Mr. Levesque fought in the Battle of Okinawa in the U.S. Navy and walked across the Proctors stage to receive a diploma just like his fellow NHS classmates.
“Mr. Levesque, thank you for your service,” Owens said. “You are truly an inspiration. We are so proud to include you in our class.”
The Niskayuna High School Hall of Fame induction takes place each year as part of the graduation ceremony. This year’s inductee was 1999 graduate Kate Fagan, an ESPN commentator and writer, best-selling author and widely respected advocate for gender equity and mental health awareness.
Fagan encouraged students to define success and beauty on their own terms – not based on what’s popular or what gets the most attention or acceptance. Fagan related setting goals to the importance of asking open-ended questions in journalism to give subjects the space to tell their own story.
“I would consider making your goals the equivalent of open-ended questions so that dozens of paths, dozens of branches, look like, feel like success,” Fagan said. “Try to let go of the metrics and the endless chasing of numbers and the toxicity of comparison and the kind of work that literally any brain can do. Try to create enough space, enough silence so that you can notice the world, so you can free your brain to do what only it can do.”
The program was punctuated by four stellar musical performances by members of the graduating class.
Class officers recognized school administrators and their advisors, English teachers Kristin Richard and Brandi Weidman, with donations to the Schenectady City Mission, the Jewish Community Center, St. Jude’s, and Nisky NOW (the district’s Nutrition on Weekends backpack program). They also announced the class gift of charging station at school for mobile devices, a nod to the increasing role that technology plays in the lives’ of students and their learning.
International exchange students at the school are recognized at graduation each year and given an opportunity to address graduates and guests.
“I want to say thank you to all of the fellow students and faculty,” said Yushi Li, who came to Niskayuna from China. “You made every day of my life at school enjoyable. I always looked forward to it.”
“The most important thing I’ve learned is understanding and tolerance,” he added later in his remarks.
For more Class of 2018 graduation photos, please view our Facebook gallery.