RENSSELAER — In a time of uncertainty, one thing was certain on Sunday: Nearly 100 Rensselaer Central students would pick up their diplomas during a slightly altered graduation ceremony.
Held inside the Joe Burvan Memorial Gymnasium for the first time in two years, the ceremony was attended by those lucky enough to receive a ticket from a member of the Class of 2021. Students were limited to four tickets each, with parents, grandparents and siblings gobbling up most of the tickets.
Face masks were also required for those attending and a hand sanitizing station was set up just a few feet from where students were to receive their diplomas.
But those changes did little to alter the excitement of the graduates or the pace of the ceremony, which lasted nearly an hour.
RCHS principal Andrew Jones made introductory remarks before students entered with the playing of “Fanfare and Circumstance” by the high school band. Jones then took time to recognize graduates who will be entering the military upon graduation on the 77th anniversary of World War II’s D-Day, the Sixth of June.
Jones then addressed the Class of 2021, urging his departing students to grow from the challenges they faced over the past 15 months.
“Today is a major milestone in your life,” he said. “A day you will never forget and maybe one you thought would never happen. Today involves a lot of great memories, challenging times and the start of the next chapter of your life. This past year-and-a-half has been full of many setbacks, but I encourage you to change your view of these events and embrace them as set-ups for a brighter future. Use the emotions and experiences you’ve developed here at RCHS to motivate you to seek greatness.”
Jones then provided a quote he believes is relevant today: “Sometimes it’s not the perfect path, but it’s the twisted path that gets us back to perfect.”
“Class of 2021, you have traveled a twisted path,” he added. “But I am confident that the challenges and adversity you have faced over the past four years of your high school career will prepare you for a more perfect path. You have shown a great deal of grit, determination, dedication, perseverance and adaptability. All of these qualities, if carried over to the next chapter of your life, will allow you to be more successful in whatever comes your way.”
After the band played the National Anthem, Jones introduced 2021 class president and salutatorian Aidan Geleott, who applauded his class’s ability to stay on point academically as the COVID pandemic ebbed and flowed outside the classrooms.
He also reminded fellow students that several rural schools like RCHS never got the chance to learn in-person because they were unable to keep the virus from entering their hallways.
“We’ve endured and survived a global pandemic and grappled an entire year of uncertainty where a single doctor’s visit could jeopardize our academic standing, our extracurriculars and our lives,” Geleott said. “And as much as we may or may not have enjoyed this school year, I would like to thank our administration for working tirelessly to keep us in-person as we only faced a two-week, school-wide closure during our academic year.”
The Class of 2021 has also learned to adapt “to new systems and situations” as it faced the pandemic, but Geleott adds it something that “will prove valuable as we move forward towards college, the work force or whatever our future endeavors may be.”
Performances by the band and choir were followed by the valedictorian address from Will Messman, who said he and his classmates will be “connected by our shared experiences that have shaped us into the people we are today.”
He added the Class of 2021 is a resilient bunch as well.
“We’ve had a unique year,” he said. “One full of canceled activities, lost opportunities and changes from our routine. It has not been ideal, but we adapted. We’ve learned to adapt to unexpected changes and roll with the punches that life throws at us.”
A National Merit Scholar finalist, Messman said the challenges he and his class have faced “has developed our perseverance and the ability to deal with change and hardship in a way we never would have developed in a normal year.
“By not giving up and striving to move forward we can reach our full potential and achieve our own dreams, whatever they may be.”
Ninety-nine class members were presented diplomas on a stage by Jones, assistant principal Julie Schmidt-Goecker and superintendent Curtis Craig.
Craig capped the ceremony by giving the 2021 class its Dr. Seuss moment. Craig has made it a tradition to read a passage or an entire Dr. Seuss book to graduating seniors.
“You’re off to great places,” he said, quoting from “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” “Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.”