by Diana Cook
For every class that graduates from John C. Birdlebough High School, those who support them know them to be a unique group of people with a personality all their own. And with that personality, a sense of who they are and what they hope to project to the world becomes evident. Then as they move ever closer to graduation day, with a range of events to honor their achievements and growth, unique elements emerge even stronger. Sensing that the end is near, for all they have shared together, students and staff reflect on the memories made, and do their best to convey what lies within their hearts about their schools, about their friends and classmates, and about futures they believe in.
At JCB those heartfelt efforts culminate in the annual baccalaureate service - a time set aside in the chaotic final days of Regents, class trip, picnic and party planning - where good thoughts surround them as they move from student to adult and class to community. Although student attendance is strictly voluntary, many choose this experience as one of added memory for all the special times they have had and have been together as one.
This year on June 20, the service did a wonderful job of honoring both tradition and what makes this class uniquely its own. The event began with a candlelight procession, and a favorite tune selected by the class ... this year, “When You Believe”.... as students filed in and placed their candles on the stage front in the auditorium. After finding their seats, flanked by families behind them, members of the greater community including teachers, clergy and student leaders settled in to offer each other a shared gift of time and contemplation in preparation for the world beyond school walls.
After a greeting and invocation by Pastor Claude Valdes of Baldwinsville’s Assembly of God Church, JCB’s principal Greg Molloy kicked off the evening’s intentions with a “A Litany of Welcome”. He began by paying tribute to the community before him - grandparents, parents, clergy from most area churches, as well as administration, and teachers - and asking for a round of applause from the student body in attendance. After all, he expressed, they would not be where they all were today if not for the love and caring of those who stood daily by their side daily in support. Molloy also made a point to convey his personal thanks to staff who had diligently and devotedly planned this special event, - Sharon Wilkinson, Lisa Spereno, Kathy Lathrop and his secretary Michelle Rudy.
“But ... tonight .... this - is all about you, isn’t it?” Molloy re-directed, “And what an adventure we’ve had class of 2012!”
That adventure was about to continue with the excitement of what comes after graduation ... “opening presents,” he said, “You are about to get more presents than you ever dreamed of at Christmas. There will be lots of congratulations. You’ll get lots of stuff and lots of money!” he pointed out.
Some students would have enough to buy a car ... some would save the money for their first spring break ... others would put it away to reduce the potential for $150,000 in college bills. But beyond that, Molloy encouraged students to “realize the true gifts that lie under the surface of all this stuff. Good fortune fades quickly when centered around that stuff,” he said, “Remember it is the people behind the presents who have all helped you develop your real gifts.”
Molloy also conveyed to students what he believed to be a truth in life. “Every skill, every talent, even every disability is a gift,” the principal said, “They all give you a unique ability, an opportunity to DO something, different from all the rest.”
Some students would use their academic skills, some their caring and healing hearts to help others. Some would serve their country. Some would contribute to growing food. Unfortunately, he pointed out sadly, a few would hide their gifts.
No matter the gift, all were important, Molloy told them, but what was even more important was to believe in their gifts and fulfill whatever destiny those gifts might bring them.
“Embrace them ... and have faith in yourselves.” he said, “And remember to hold close to your hearts the people who help develop those gifts”. For they, Molloy reinforced, were some of the most precious gifts that students going out into the world would ever find in life.
Fellow classmate, Samantha Frega, next took the stage to sing another generational favorite song, “Breakaway”, made popular by Kelly Clarkson, before clergy and community in attendance moved through a spoken expression of student accomplishment in graduation, blessings of hope for life to come, and a welcome as young adults into the community.
It was a parade of Phoenix graduates who followed, coming up to the microphone two or three at a time, sharing readings, thoughts, quotations and advice with fellow friends and classmates, many of which incorporated the night’s theme.
Kenny Roffo and Billy Lentz began by talking about a shift in perspective - considering that although graduation might seem like the end, in many ways, “it is the beginning of our lives,” Roffo said. The two alternated across the microphone, and shared with class members that concept of “All they ever needed to know they learned in kindergarten” from the writings of Robert Fulghum .... and as some contend, truly the most important lessons for carrying forward in life, ever learned.
Tyler Doupe and Michael Gilchriest suggested that in life, their friends should “aim for success, not perfection” - pointing out that pitfalls should never hold them back. Tyler Virkler, salutatorian Jenna Zaia and Tyler Button, expressed encouragement to their class to “believe, achieve and aspire”, followed by another inspiration delivered by Doug Hillpot and Megan Palmer, while Kristin Waldby and Marisa Turner suggested to students that they not ever stop “dreaming your dreams”. There was a recited version of “Oh the places you’ll go,” by Dr. Suess - clearly stretching our before students “Your mountain is waiting, today is your day” kind of confidence, before the final student speakers came to the microphone.
Valedictorian Chris Dean along with Amanda Indick encouraged friends to remember the range of support which had enveloped their lives and not to carry their burdens alone. While they might all be competent high school graduates, there would surely be pitfalls ahead. “The longer one carries their problems on their own, the heavier they get,” Dean told classmates, “Reach out - share the load”. And as far as their gifts and all they were bringing with them into the world, “Do ordinary things in an extraordinary way,” he said.
When Mitchell Alger (this year’s “Mr. Phoenix”) took the stage, he too focused on the journey. “Each day is a blank page in the story of your life,” he said, making the point that each one had the chance to make that story the best it could be.
As is frequently the case, Pastor Claude Valdes was up as ceremonial speaker for delivering one of the service messages to Phoenix seniors. After expressing his view of Phoenix as “more than just a school, it’s a family” that pours over to include “staff, mentors and leaders by example”, Valdes turned towards his own inspiration in life - his growing family.
The view he conceded was a little different, with three children under age five, “putting me at the beginning of where you’ve come to the end of”, he said. And yet, within those daily experiences of life, he felt he could already see himself where both parents and students were on this special day. “I am in awe of these precious little lives,” Valdes said.
In his travels between home and church, the pastor had recently come across something distressing. As is typical for spring, Valdes had noticed a nest on the third floor of one of the older church buildings. Then one day traveling between buildings he noticed two baby birds barely feathered on the ground below the nest. “They didn’t make it ... it was very sad to see,” he said. The next day, another one. “You just want to scream a little - stop! Stop jumping!” said Valdes.
A couple of nights later as he was passing by, he heard very loud chirping, looked up and could see a more-feathered baby bird moving - no, being pushed - towards the edge. In his head he was thinking “They’re not ready!” It was horrifying to watch, Valdes explained, but he couldn’t help himself. He watched as the little bird went over the edge, “flapping desperately ... I was cheering for the little bird .. hoping against hope as it got closer and closer to the ground. I was sure it was going to hit ... and right at the last minute it didn’t and went flying, flapping to a safe landing,” he said.
“You are nearing that moment,” the pastor said. Each one of them was getting ever closer to leaving the nest, about to go over the edge, themselves and others not sure if they were ready. “But I challenge you tonight, to step out of your nest, spread your wings and fly,” said Valdes. “You’re ready - walk into and embrace your destiny ... go into your future. Your time is now!”
From there, senior members of the JCB Chorus and Chamber Singers took stage and microphone to sing a lovely rendition of one of the baccalaureate’s traditional song inclusions with “Till the Stars Fall From the Sky” before youth pastor Jeremia Pouleson came up to say a few words.
He came to talk about a Hebrew word - ‘Selah’. Although difficult to translate exactly, Pouleson described it as “a moment of contemplation”, or “a rest between phrases” , often found in music or psalm. In life he thought of it as a chance to stop and reflect ... and tonight was just such a chance. “To reflect on past years, the joys, the sadness, to look back and take it all in,” he said.
Pouleson went on to say that he imagined that if he asked “What was your happiest moment in high school?”, he’d “probably get a couple hundred different answers”. But that was important ... there were lots of them. “So as you go on from here, think about all those moments of happiness, and let them be what drives you forward,” Pouleson said.
“The Litany of Challenge” was led by superintendent Belfield, interacting with the graduates, challenging them to accept and commit to the new responsibilities of adulthood, the passage into new beginnings, and to use what they learned to make the world a better place.
As another baccalaureate service came to a close, Father Brockmeyer of St. Stephen’s Church offered a final benediction and words of advice. After calling for blessings upon all these students graduating, he had a special request that each be blessed with a thankful heart, that they would take with them through life a gratitude and respect for themselves and others. “Cherish the wonder of yourself, and recognize, really try and see, the goodness in others,” he said. With that they could have an awareness of everyone as a reflection of God “and give of yourself to others.”
As is also typical, the program ended with a video set to music ... photos of good times, and goofy times ... a progression through the years with photos from hallway to lunchroom, from field play to stage play, from freshman homecoming to senior prom ... and designed to leave not a dry eye in the house.
And although at this point in the baccalaureate service, it would have been time for the processional out the door and on to their lives, this class of 2012 had one more thing to share - as if they wanted to make the final point about who they really were.
Students had put together their own series of video clips set to music, that showed small groups and pairs, teammates, friends, singing and dancing in spaces in and around their JCB home, celebrating all they have been together with one final memory made, and preserved for posterity.
Of course, the room erupted - applause, laughter, and cheers.
And just as everyone hopes when kids get on the bus for the first time, new paths were laid before them with every chance for learning and happiness ahead. They were off into their futures, encouragement sending them on ... with a wish that this life becomes all they want it to be, and a confident belief in who they have yet to become.
Photo Caption: Senior members of the JCB high school Chorus and Chamber Singers joined together to sing one of the service’s traditional favorites ... “Till the Stars Fall from the Sky”