June 20, 2013
Grads find their own path
Cortland Alternative School seniors take final steps at commencement
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cortland Alternative School graduates, from left, Meagan Dwelly, Makayla Vandusen and Dustin Sherman, change over there tassels Wednesday during a graduation ceremony at SUNY Cortland’s Corey Union.
Michael Hapgood came to Cortland Alternative School midway through this school year, after realizing there was no other way he would graduate from high school.
“I thought the Cortland Alternative School was for bad kids, but I found it was for kids who are different and want a second chance on things,” he said Wednesday evening as he and eight other seniors received certificates from the school.
Hapgood, who came to the school from Homer High School, said he hopes to open a gas station on Route 41 in Scott.
Cortland Alternative School, part of Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, held its 27th annual commencement at SUNY Cortland’s Corey Union Function Room. Six of the nine seniors attended.
All of them will receive their actual diplomas from their home school district this weekend.
The BOCES program offers various alternatives to public school for students from grades eight through 12.
The seniors gave a speech about themselves at their commencement, as part of fulfilling Regents credits for English. They then present a rose to someone who has helped them finish high school, when they were struggling.
Some students mentioned teachers who had calmed them when they were upset, and talked them through their issues.
Hapgood said the faculty and staff at the school really want to understand students’ problems. He said afterward he might attend Homer High School’s commencement on Saturday morning but probably will not walk with the other seniors.
Hapgood gave his rose to his grandmother, Candy Parker.
Zach Sherrill of Cortland said he learned to be less “bullheaded” in the past two years, and now tries to approach situations in a mature manner. He gave his rose to social studies teacher Jeff Gambitta, who talked him through his tough days, he said.
Kyle McCrory of Cortland said he never went to school much or, when he did, spent his time talking with friends. He said he learned about economics the past two years at the school, is moving to North Carolina, and might attend a technical institute there. He gave his rose to his mother, Kris McCrory.
Dustin Sherman of Cortland said he did well in school when he could get extra help, but he found that help scarce in seventh grade and his grades fell.
He thanked Abe Brafman — Cortland High School’s principal for grades 11 and 12, who attended the ceremony — for steering him to the alternative school. Sherman gave his rose to his mother, Tammy Recor.
Meagan Dwelly from Fabius-Pompey and Makayla Vandusen from Homer said they arrived in ninth grade and found a place where they could thrive.
Both students thanked former math teacher Marianne Bertini, who transferred to another BOCES school in Solvay two years ago, then accepted a teaching job this year at an alternative school in Brooklyn. Bertini watched the ceremony via iPad held by English teacher Erica Savoie. When Dwelly and Vandusen mentioned Bertini, they looked toward the iPad in Savoie’s hands.
Dwelly lauded Gambitta for sticking with her as she “pushed him away because I was too scared to learn the truth about myself.”
She said she plans to study criminal justice at Tompkins Cortland Community College. She received both scholarships offered at the ceremony, the Thomas Clark Scholarship named after a former high school dropout who became a teacher at Cortland High School and the Harvey Kaufman Rotary Scholarship, named after Cortland’s former superintendent of schools.
Dwelly gave her rose to three family members.
Vandusen said she also plans to attend TC3, to study drug and alcohol counseling, since she has seen her family battle addiction. She also gave her rose to family members.
The graduates who did not attend were Benjamin Thorne of Cortland, Jon McDonald of McGraw and Abbey Ingison of Fabius-Pompey.
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