Story by Christina Hedding
S.S. Seward Institute Principal Michael Rheaume welcomed parents, teachers, family members, and friends of the Class of 2017 to the commencement celebration held on Sat., Jun. 24. All 66 graduates lined up in front of the S.S. Seward High school and processed across the lawn and through a tent to the stage.
District Superintendent Jan Jehring spoke after all the students were seated and welcomed everyone to the graduation. Jehring spoke of the special bond the Class of 2017 had because Florida is a School District where students go from kindergarten to seniors in high school with the same group of kids.
The first student speaker was S.S. Seward senior class president Eric Carbonaro. He led the class in the Pledge of Allegiance before thanking faculty and teachers for everything they did in putting together the graduation ceremony.
Carbonaro then spoke about how he and his classmates were ready for this day, ready to go out into the real world, and how they would miss the small, close knit community provided to them by the Village of Florida and by S.S. Seward Institute. Carbonaro added that the graduates had “Spartan Spirit” and they would carry that with them as they went to college, the armed forces, and the workforce. He concluded by thanking all the parents for their dedication to the seniors standing before them.
“Guys, we made it,” said Carbonaro.
‘The Future is Filled with New Opportunities’
Principal Rheaume then introduced the Class of 2017 Salutatorian, Katherine Mazur. Mazur said that as excited as the students are to graduate and get on with their lives, she questioned if any of them really know what that means. She said that even though the future ahead of them seemed very daunting, it is also filled with excitement.
“The future is filled with new opportunities, new faces, places, new feelings and new experiences. It our time to grasp the future for what it is and to embrace it for what it is,” said Mazur.
Next, Principal Rheaume invited James Sosler to present a few awards to the graduating seniors. Sosler thanked everyone who made the graduation day possible before he began the awards presentation.
Sosler presented the 2017 Alumni Scholarships to Rachel Behrent, Katherine Mazur, Natalie Miller, and Devon Warner. He presented the Alumni Military Awards to Robert Pipolo, Nicolas Knecht, Vincent Vinetti, and Logan Wood, the members of the Class of 2017 who are entering the military. Sosler then presented the American Legion Scholarship award to Joseph Villani.
Finally, Tim Raines, Chris Melody, John Greenhill, and Jeff Babcock from the Florida Fire Department presented awards to the graduating seniors who put in over 120 volunteer hours with the Fire Department as junior firefighters. Seniors who received these awards were Victor Valentin, Vincent Palacino and Ryan Sham.
After this presentation, the John Sheff Memorial scholarship was awarded to senior Emilia Knecht. The last award was the Francis J. Devor Memorial Award which was presented to Emma Meier.
‘Hard Work Really Does Work’
After the presentation of awards, Rheaume introduced the Class of 2017 Valedictorian, Rachel Behrent, and invited her to speak to her classmates. Behrent began by quoting Principal Rheaume saying, “Hard work really does work,” as a testament to her amazing classmates.
“For many of us, Seward and Florida, NY has been our home for 13 years now. It’s the place where we grew up, met our best friends, made memories that will last a life time, and became the individuals we are today,” said Behrent. “Everywhere you look there has always been a friendly face and a hand to help you along the way.”
Teacher Katie Hanon is a ‘Role Model’
Behrent also thanked her chemistry teacher, Katie Hanon, who she said had a major impact on her personal success at S.S. Seward. She said Hanon was more than just a teacher to many of the students, she was a role model, a person to throw ideas off of, someone to talk to when there was a tough decision to be made, or when her students had a rough day.
According to Behrent, every student at S.S. Seward has someone, a faculty, staff or friend, who helped them survive high school the way Hanon helped her. Behrent thanked Hanon for her love and support and left the Class of 2017 with wise words from her favorite teacher, “Class of 2017, make good choices.”
The Valedictorian speech by Mark Visconti followed and then the S.S. Seward High School Choir sang, “Shake It Out,” by Florence and the Machine.
After the performance, Principal Rheaume shared his own words of wisdom with the Class of 2017. He began by thanking senior Emilia Knecht for being the inspiration for his speech. Rheaume said he had heard that Knecht came up with the phrase, “be a game changer,” to inspire her fellow basketball players during the season.
“Be a game changer,” said Rheaume, “that is what I want for the Class of 2017. I want you to go out into life and be game changers. Whatever game changer means to you, do it and do it well.”
Rheaume then invited Superintendent Jehring, School Board members Meg Sgombick and John Redman, and Vice Principal Susan Moore to present the diplomas to the Class of 2017. After the diplomas were presented, the Class of 2017 proceeded up the aisle to Green Day’s, “Good Riddance,” and celebrated their accomplishments on the school lawn with their families, friends and loved ones.