June 27, 2011
Homer grads begin new paths
172 graduates urged to make their own way while giving all they can
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
From left, Homer High graduates salutatorian Riley Bauer, class president Chelsea Ruan and vice president Kindrah Kohne are all smiles Saturday during their graduation ceremony.
A warning about devoting too much time to social networking devices, a grandfather’s salute to four grandchildren graduating at once and a valedictorian’s thoughts about the ripple effects of a difficult decision dominated Saturday’s Homer High School commencement.
The 172 graduates in dark blue gowns streamed past hundreds of family and friends in SUNY Cortland’s Park Center Alumni Arena, marking the school’s 65th commencement and the 191st anniversary of the former Homer Academy.
Keynote speaker Jim Barry, a Homer Junior High science teacher, said he flunked out of college and had to pay his own way when he returned, because his mother would not, which was a lesson.
He told the graduates to make their own paths, resist the pressure to be someone they are not, appreciate Homer and its school district as something to be proud of.
Noting that he graduated from high school in the 1970s, before the Internet or cell phones or personal computers, he urged them to use these tools but not let machines take over their lives.
“Be nice,” Barry said. “The world has enough anger, it doesn’t need any more.”
The crowd applauded.
Otis Young, a retired East Homer farmer with many ties to the community, had a 50-gallon plastic barrel full of ice and chocolate milk cartons in the parking lot for anyone to drink afterward. He said he was celebrating the graduation of his grandchildren Derek and Rebekah Poole and twins Alysha and Katie Camp.
“Never had that many graduate at once,” he said, noting that Rebekah finished a year early and joined her brother. Their cousin Megan Poole received her diploma as well.
But for about 10 minutes, the morning belonged to valedictorian Molly McSherry, who spent the year at Joffrey Ballet School in Manhattan, pursuing her dream of being a professional dancer.
“I am here, I am present, I am delivering the valedictorian speech today,” said McSherry, referring to a petition signed by 85 students to have her removed as valedictorian, or named co-valedictorian or honorary valedictorian, because she was not physically at Homer this year.
The school district backed McSherry, saying any change to the policy for selecting valedictorian and salutatorian would have to be decided after this year.
McSherry did her coursework online via Tompkins Cortland Community College while studying dance for what she said was as much as 12 hours per day. She stepped down as class president and Student Council vice president after deciding to enroll at Joffrey.
McSherry told her classmates to meet their own expectations, not necessarily others’ expectations, and to strive to accept life’s problems along with its nicer moments.
“You and you alone determine your path,” she said, adding she had made many friends at the dance academy who had shown her so much about life, including one girl who tried to stay focused on school while knowing her father was dying of cancer.
McSherry listed a series of things her classmates should do “anyway” in life even if they knew they might fail.
She said when people are self-centered and illogical, “love them anyway.” If her classmates wanted to be successful, they would make enemies but should be successful anyway. What they spent years building could be destroyed overnight, she said, “but build anyway.”
People should give the world the best they have, no matter what the cost, she said.
Her speech was greeted by applause and cheers.
Salutatorian Riley Bauer also touched on the theme of deciding what is important, and said leaving high school might seem sad but is an opportunity for the graduates to define themselves. He told his classmates not to put off doing things but to pursue goals and ambitions now.
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