Story by Lisa Rice
Warwick Valley High School offers graduating seniors the opportunity to enhance their final year of English and Government by electing to take Senior Project. In addition to the regular English 12 and American Government curriculum, students commit to completing an approved project that allows them to venture into a previously unexplored skill or talent and to writing a college-level research paper. The Senior Project Team Leaders are English teachers, Nicholas DiLeo and Louis Ogden and Government teachers Jeanine Fogler and Denis O’Connor.
On Thurs., Dec. 15, Senior Project students announced their approved project and research paper topic during a Formal Announcement Ceremony attended by fellow classmates, Principal Larry Washington, Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton and teachers.
“We have seen the program grow from 12 students to something that incoming freshman look forward to,” commented Government teacher Jeanine Fogler, during her opening remarks. “Senior Project is now part of our culture here at the High School.”
“The Senior Project slogan, ‘Explore Your Passions; Discover Yourself’ reflects what Warwick Valley High School is all about,” stated Principal Larry Washington. “The teachers are as passionate about the projects as the students are. To me, Senior Project is about the journey.”
Then Nick DiLeo took the podium to introduce the ceremony’s keynote speaker, Academy Award nominated and Emmy Award winning actor James Cromwell, and given Cromwell’s impressive resume, the introduction was a lengthy one.
To some audience members, Cromwell is fondly remembered as Archie Bunker’s pal Stretch Cunningham on All in the Family or Warden Hal Moores in “The Green Mile” or perhaps Farmer Arther Hoggett in the movie “Babe,” but to majority of the teenaged audience he is Doctor Arthur Arden from FX’s American Horror Story – Asylum, which garnered a roaring round of applause.
Cromwell was asked to speak about the focus of the slogan: passion and discovery. He started by stating that he did not start out being passionate as an actor, instead wanting to direct after witnessing his father directing in Sweden after being blacklisted in Hollywood.
He discussed his challenges with academia, having attended two colleges before determining he was allergic to higher education and then started to act in New York.
“I have managed to make a success of my acting against all odds. I am too tall, too funny looking, I don’t look particularly American and I don’t fit the mold of a Hollywood actor, like Brad Pitt, whoever,” Cromwell said. “But I have made a life of it, as did my father and my mother and my stepmother and my grandmother, made a life of it. And I have to say it has only been the latter half of my career that it has become a passion. Basically what I was doing was trying to win the approbation of my father.”
He told of early experiences with theater, including facing blatant and public racism in the south during the 1960s, something that was foreign to Cromwell who was born and raised in Westchester, NY.
“The passion for truth is something you cannot count on,” Cromwell concluded with the following words from Jiddu Krishnamurti: “Some of you will nod your heads and say, ‘I agree,’ and go outside and do exactly the same as you have been doing for the last ten or twenty years. Your agreement is merely verbal and has no significance, for the world’s miseries and wars are not going to be stopped by your casual assent. They will be only stopped when you realize the danger, when you realize your responsibility, when you do not leave it to somebody else. If you realize the suffering, if you see the urgency of immediate action and do not postpone, then you will transform yourself.”
After Cromwell spoke for about 26 minutes, the students went to the podium one by one and announced their varied projects which include learning American Sign Language, organizing a walk for autism research, writing a fiction book, hosting a baseball tournament, making costumes for the spring musical, creating make up, learning karate, developing a website, writing a one-act play and hosting a self-esteem awareness week.
Senior Project concludes in the spring when each student presents what they’ve learned to a panel of judges for their final grade. A celebratory dinner is held and each Senior Project senior wears a gold sash at graduation.