by Elisabeth Clemmons
On Friday, June 23, at 6:30 p.m., the doors to the Pawling High School gym opened to admit a long line of high school seniors just moments away from graduation. They were greeted by a vast audience assembled to welcome the Class of 2017 to their collective future. It would be an evening to celebrate the achievements of each student and, to borrow from an admonishment of Henry David Thoreau, to encourage them to “go confidently in the direction of their dreams,” while embracing the uncertainty of the future.
Before the ceremony began, 92 students gathered outside the entrance to the high school donning graduation gowns and caps and a lot of smiles. There was laughter, maybe a few tears, and Instagram photo-shoots galore.
“It’s so surreal. I’m so excited, yet kind of sad,” said Aishwarya Govindarajan, a varsity tennis player and student enrolled in the PHS Science Research program. Govindarajan, a future Biomedical Sciences student, said she plans to continue her studies on cell competition in college next year.
The evening’s big event opened with the proud procession of students, flashing grins and waving at their families, advancing down the aisles to “Pomp and Circumstance” played by the High School Band. The High School Chorus then took the stage to lead the National Anthem and the Pawling High School Alma Mater song. Principal Helen Callan welcomed and congratulated the seniors on their achievements.
In her speech, Salutatorian Elsie Martin remarked on how the Pawling High School class of 2017 represented a diverse group of promising young adults, with many achievements to boast of. “We have ballet dancers. We have amazing musicians. We have incredibly talented artists. We have mathematicians, scientists, and future engineers. The list goes on and on.”
As validation of Martin’s assessment, the talented Class of 2017 boasts acceptances to a wide range of prestigious four-year institutions, including most of the SUNYs, George Washington University, Haverford, Lehigh, Mount Holyoke, NYU, Smith, and Villanova. But not only that – many will embark on futures in social work programs, design programs, technical arts programs, the Marine Corps, the National Guard, U.S. Army Intelligence, and the Coast Guard Academy. There are also several athletes contracted to play at the collegiate-level in sports such as volleyball or cross-country.
In appreciation of the supportive environment at Pawling High School that led to many of these achievements, Class President Andra Sullivan presented the school with the gift of a fund to purchase an electronic message board that will allow the school to promote ongoing school activities and events to the community in real time.
Somewhat apologetic, both Martin and valedictorian Jake Koerner told to their classmates that they were not quite ready to impart profound wisdom about the future. Both admitted that they, too, were just eighteen and just as nervous about the oncoming future as their peers. But they had some insights about how to face uncertainty.
Martin reminded her classmates of the importance of having good questions. “I do believe that, in life, it is better to have questions than to have answers. We all want the answers to life, but how often do we appreciate the questions?”
Continuing the spirit of Martin’s message, Koerner encouraged his peers to embrace the fact that the future is “so unpredictable, so uncertain.” He urged his fellow classmates to take up the challenge: “While that uncertainty is both scary and exciting, it is certainly filled with new lessons and experiences.”
Shortly after these parting words of optimism, Mrs. Callan presented the class to Dr. William Ward, who then declared the Class of 2017 officially graduated. Cheers erupted, followed by the official presentation of diplomas to each who had worked so hard to earn them.
As the ceremony drew to a close, Mrs. Callan praised the class of 2017 for their academic initiative and their community engagements as well. She applauded their leadership skills and expressed her faith in their ability to “Go confidently in the direction of their dreams” and truly “live the life they imagine.”