By GREG FOX
OBSERVER Staff Writer
Phrases such as "Keep calm and graduate," "Thank you, abuela" and "Grad diva" could be seen adorning the tops of graduation caps as Dunkirk High School celebrated its 155th annual commencement ceremony with a packed audience at SUNY Fredonia's King Concert Hall.
More than 115 students participated in the Saturday morning ceremony.
Class valedictorian Lucas Julian shared specific memories and heartfelt laughs with his fellow students during his speech.
"Although you must work hard and be serious at times, you need to relax and have fun, as well," he said.
"If you don't chill out, you'll burn out. Remember, even though we will have our trying days, every one of us has been blessed with talents to be proud of. Although many of us will go our separate ways, by no means should it be permanent."
"We have finally made it. I don't know about all of you, but this feeling is awesome," class salutatorian Rafael Muller Jr. said during his speech. "Our time is now, and now is our time to face the world head-on. We are the future of this country, and we cannot fail. And now, the real reason I'm up here: I'm going to be President of the United States."
In his first year as the high school principal, Stephen O'Brien praised how involved the students were with their community.
"My only regret is I only got to spend just one year with this great group of kids," he said after the ceremony.
During his speech, however, O'Brien joked how the official program said he would only be giving remarks instead of an address like everyone else.
"I'm wondering, if Lincoln showed up at Gettysburg, and they said, 'Mr. President, we've changed the program. Your address will only just be remarks,' I wonder if the social studies classes would be any different if it were just the 'Gettysburg Remarks,'" O'Brien said to an audience full of laughter.
During the ceremony, "Home" by Phillip Phillips was sung by the senior class chorus. The students were led by Dunkirk music teacher Jeannine Van Wey.
Right before his speech, Senior Class President Zachary Torain used his cell phone to take a group picture of his fellow students. He warned people to "get the tissues" for what he was about to say.
"I was just excited high school was over, so I did what any modern teenager would do," he said. "I stayed up all night watching entire seasons of my favorite show on Netflix."
Torain told the students to go full-throttle and give everything their all, refusing to allow others to discourage them from their dreams. He also said that wherever life may take them, they should never forget Dunkirk, a small city that has had a big impact on them.
School Superintendent Gary Cerne gave graduates three pieces of advice: hard work pays off, take the time to thank others and practice tolerance.
"In closing, I said there would be a quiz, but it isn't today," Cerne said. "The quiz will be how you handle yourself daily from now on. Remember to smile often, dream big, laugh a lot, strive to be the best, be tolerant of others and take the time to give thanks to those who have helped you along the way."
"Think about the changes that have happened over the last four years and have occurred since your freshman year," Carol Bleck, mistress of ceremonies, said. "How different you are, how different the school is and how your attitude towards the school has been. I'm going to guess you even like it now."
Toward the end of the ceremony, Spirit of DHS Award winner Edwin Gomez Jr. led the class of 2013 as they turned their tassels, which represented their journey through high school officially coming to a close.
Bleck made the final remarks to the students before they set out into the world as Dunkirk City School graduates.
"In closing ... you can change the world and you will forever be our Team Awesome," she said.
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