ALBANY — Bethlehem Central awarded 354 diplomas to its graduating high school students at an evening commencement ceremony held at the Times Union Center in downtown Albany on Friday, June 25.
The night was the highlight of an extraordinary year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and was a joyous event for the members of the Class of 2021, their families, friends, teachers, staff, administrators and members of the Board of Education.
Principal David Doemel, Jr., Superintendent Jody Monroe and Board of Education president Holly Dellenbaugh all addressed the graduating class and guests. Students were surrounded by their counselors as well as the 2021 honorary graduation marshals selected by the students as having had a significant impact on their time in Bethlehem.
This year’s marshals were Lester Betor, Cori DiFabbio, Nicholas Ferguson, Evan Harley, Megan Jackson, Durray Mahmood, Kristi Malsan, Jeffrey Mongue, Laurie Nolan, Matthew Rehbit, Eileen Turo, Michael Valenti, Michael Waldenmaier and Jessica Weimer.
There were three student speakers at the 87th BCHS Commencement Exercises.
Uarda Sulo opened the ceremony by sharing her story of the challenges she faced being an immigrant new to BC and how she quickly found support and friendship in her teachers and classmates.
“I’m here to tell you that I faced the biggest change in my life, moving from Albania to the United States as a teenager, and I am standing here today stronger than ever,” Sulo told her classmates. “Take that next step confidently with a smile on your face. I know that transition to college is going to be hard, but hard doesn’t mean impossible.
“Sometimes I think changes are exactly what you need in life in order to build the future you,” she said.
Natalie Qualia gave a senior address that dispelled the myth that “because of COVID,” students found this year’s setbacks impossible to overcome. Instead, she argued, she and her classmates had begun to look at life through a different lens as a result of the pandemic.
“I saw a change in attitude at school,” said Qualia. “‘I’m so cold’ and ‘I’m so tired’ turned into ‘it’s so nice to see you again’ and ‘I’m so excited to be back.’ Attending class was transformed from duty into a distraction; from a chore into a chance to enjoy the company of our peers again.
“As the positive, compassionate, and zealous BC Eagles we are, it wasn’t surprising we turned ‘because of COVID’ into a positive statement,” Qualia told the class of 2021. “Because of COVID, we became stronger together. Because of COVID, we grew as individuals. Because of COVID, we soared.”
Jack Burman gave the closing address, taking time to congratulate the graduating class on its accomplishments and encouraging his classmates to work hard, stay curious and invest in community service. Most importantly, he urged them to give their parents and families the credit they have earned with their “invaluable support.”
“The final piece of advice comes from my mother,” said Burman. “She told me to be very clear and forceful when I tell you this. Here’s what she said: ‘DON’T FORGET TO CALL YOUR FAMILY!’”