GOWANDA - Sunshine, words of wisdom, cheers and even the motto "you only live once" or as high school seniors know it as "YOLO" were aplenty on Hillis Field. The sun shined as 82 students received diplomas from Gowanda High School Friday night.
Pomp and Circumstance played as the seniors walked on to the football field and took their seats. High School Principal Dr. Robert Anderson greeted those in attendance and gave congratulations to the graduates. He offered anecdotes of the class throughout high school and said the class of 2012 will be remembered for their "empathy for school and community." Anderson shared examples of how the students helped with the mural in the cafeteria and helped the village when the flood hit in 2009.
"The class of 2012 truly left a mark on Gowanda," he said.
OBSERVER Photo by Samantha McDonnell
All graduates gave High School Principal Dr. Robert Anderson marbles as their gift to him to “replace any he may have lost over the past four years.”
Lawrence Wheeler, Seneca Nation of Indians education director, offered his congratulatory remarks to students. He thanked the students who are entered into the armed services as well as urging students to be thankful for their family and friends.
Salutatorian Danielle Steffan gave words of wisdom to the students telling them "we determine our own future."
"We have all accomplished so much," Steffan said. "Never give up hope and always be yourself. You're the only one who makes a difference in your life."
Valedictorian Zachary Steever took a not-so-traditional approach to his speech.
"All throughout high school, I'd imagine what I would say if given the chance to speak at graduation. I didn't realize that until I got that chance how difficult it is to put your feelings about school, friends, family and the future into words," he said.
Steever walked to the podium with guitar in hand and serenaded the audience with a song he wrote for graduation. Prior to the song, Steever gave thanks to the school, family, classmates and God. He also used an analogy for trees to describe the graduates.
When Steever was in his backyard trying to collect his thoughts, he saw a tree that was given to him in sixth grade on Arbor Day. Steever had planted the tree in his back yard between two bigger bushes.
"We're much like that tree. We were brought into this world as little twigs and for 17 or 18 years those around us have given us their time, their love and their wisdom allowing us to grow," Steever said. "We have already seen that we will change with the seasons. We will have leaves fall in our lives but they will go back. We must not assume just because some of us stand taller than our elders that we have truly outgrown them. Much like that tree, we are not done growing yet."
Steever then used his guitar to sing a song about where the past 13 years have gone and the experiences shared over those years. With his song, Steever brought many to their feet during a standing ovation.
The guest speaker was Ret. Navy Commander James Hassett who graduated in 1986 from Gowanda High School. He spoke of how the differences between the graduating class of 2012 compared to Hassett's class. The biggest change is technology, he said.
Hassett also gave the students three challenges for their lives. The first challenge was "Don't eat the marshmallow yet." Hassett spoke of a social experiment with pre-school aged children in 1972. The children were asked to not eat a marshmallow left with them; if they succeeded, the children would receive an additional marshmallow.
"It's hard to not eat the marshmallow," he said.
Hassett explained the principle of delayed gratification and told students they should not try to keep up with their peers and go beyond their means just starting out.
"You cannot truly enjoy something that you truly can't afford. Don't eat the marshmallow yet," Hassett said.
The second challenge was "Don't just be happy, be elevated." Hassett told the students to listen to uplifting music, watch inspirational movies or shows and read positive things. By being elevated, he said, they will want to be better people and will seize opportunities to do so.
The third challenge was "Don't be an elephant." Hassett explained that baby elephants are typically chained in the wilderness to ensure they do not wander off.
Hassett compared the cuffs that elephants wear to problems and negativism students may have faced throughout high school. Students should grow up to be tough like elephants but also break through these cuffs.
"So what can make us as big and strong as elephants to get over these cuffs? It's passion," he said.
Hassett said that some students have found their passion and have already broken through the cuffs. If students haven't found their passion yet, he said don't give up or worry.
Each graduating class gives a legacy gift to the school and the seniors gave a podium which was used for graduation. They also gave Anderson a gift. As each student received his or her diploma, the students placed two marbles in to a jar for Anderson. The marbles were to symbolize all the marbles which Anderson has lost over the years due to the graduating class.
Thirty-three students will be attending college while five will join the military out of the class of 2012.
Closing the ceremony, Anderson told students, "just be yourselves." He also joked he was feeling better already thanks to all the marbles he had been given.
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