ALBANY — “I can confidently say that none of us expected to spend the majority of our last year in high school, joining many of our classmates from our bedrooms. It is easy to get discouraged when things don’t turn out the way we expect,” said Alyssa Lambert, Colonie High, Class of ’21 president. “When faced with unforeseen challenges like the past year and a half we are left with two choices. You can either surrender to the fear of what is to come or arise to the challenge that awaits.”
That was the sentiment shared among the graduates at the school’s 67th commencement ceremony at the Times Union Center on Thursday, June 24. Up until just weeks ago, nobody was sure there would be a graduation at all, and if it did take place would it be like last year’s, with small groups walking across a makeshift stage on the football field. Outside, and with few guests, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the virus that upended lives around the world, including those graduating high school.
“It has been 468 days since we heard school would be closed indefinitely, 468 days since our lives completely changed,” said high-honor graduate Ava Coogan.
She said distractions changed from the first Friday night football game of when the class was freshman four years ago to settling in to sports or clubs during sophomore year. Junior year, she said, things got more serious. When planning for college was ramped up, classes were harder and more intense and arguments with parents became more frequent as youth gave way to adulthood.
“And we were ready to take on the most challenging year of high school. And claim the title of upper classman. That task became much more difficult when the pandemic came our way and suddenly our year was no longer about our futures but rather the coronavirus and whether our families were able to find toilet paper,” she said. “If anything, distractions have taught us a very valuable lesson. If you want to do something, simply do it. Don’t say you don’t want to go to junior prom because you’ll just go to senior prom. Because, guess what, there may not be a prom. Go to that family birthday party you are dreading, because we have learned maybe we will be sequestered and unable to see our loved ones. Stand in front of the student section at games as underclassmen because we have learned there may not be that opportunity as upper classmen.
“As you continue on life don’t turn anything down. Visit your family, travel the world, sign up for that interesting class in college or join that club. Hold that hug a little longer. Do it all. Appreciate the little things. And most importantly, live in the moment.”
Superintendent David Perry congratulated the students for enduring unprecedented times and said he hoped nobody has to live through another like the past year and a half.
“You did it. You overcame the obstacles, set aside the distractions and you persevered. While I hope we never have a year of experience like we did this year, hold your heads high that you endured,” he said. “From here you will go on to many rewarding experiences. Some of you will go on to college. Others will join our armed forces and go on to defend our freedoms. Others will begin careers that will not only provide you with a paycheck but also allow you to be part of a team that rebuilds New York.”
Colonie High Principal Thomas Kachadurian was named to the position in June 2020, said “everything we were accustomed to was upended and all things we could reasonably expect was stripped away.” He reminded students to “be kind” as they head out into the world as adults.
“Through that awkwardness came an evaluation of what really matters to us. What we truly miss and need in our lives versus what we grew accustomed to and assumed we needed,” he said. “In many ways the past 16 months brought about a reset of our values. A deeper, fuller understanding of what is essential as well as a wider, clearer lens to what is really important. Time is precious. Do not waste it by fretting over things you cannot control. Spend it on things that feed your passions and people you call most dear. Simply we are flesh, blood and bones. What makes us different should not displace our inherent humanity. Be kind to each other.”
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