RANDOLPH - The Randolph campus of the Randolph Academy Union Free School District celebrated its 19th commencement ceremony Thursday.
The ceremony featured five graduating seniors, all of whom have overcome major hurdles in life, as well as a commencement address by James Colby, a former resident and student of the academy.
Colby, now a resident of Buffalo, attended the academy as a teenager in the early 1990s. Although he did not graduate from the academy, he said his time there helped to shape him into the person he is today.
Angelica, winner of the Lester Sweeting Memorial Scholarship, presented by Brad Sande,
Randolph Academy Board
of Education president.
"Randolph (Academy) really is a place that changes lives," he said prior to the ceremony. "When I came there, I was a troubled youth without any structure at home. Now, I'm almost 36, a homeowner, a father of three and, although I'm not a millionaire, I am paid well for the work I do in helping people who have financial problems. Part of me thinks that this is a result of things that were planted in me by the people at Randolph, who took the time to deal with a very troubled young man."
Colby also lauded members of the academy's staff for the dedicated work they do.
"(My address) focuses more on the people that are actually in the trenches and developing the programs. I want to make sure the public knows about some of the good work going on there," he said.
"These are wonderful people who do what they do because they love to help kids in need, and they love to invest themselves in their jobs. That's really the true story and beauty of the campus that isn't given its just due or a proper, 'thank you.'"
Colby also discussed his feelings about the significance in these graduates receiving their high school diplomas.
"It's really just the beginning, not only for the life that's ahead of them, but for the relationships and friendships that they've already made," he said. "The Randolph experience doesn't end just because you graduate and walk across the stage. I hope they use this as a stepping stone to step forward and step out to embrace people that need help."
Two seniors who received their diplomas have already made plans to continue on to college. Angela, a four-year student of the academy from New York City, will be attending Jamestown Community College to pursue an associate's degree in individual studies-which she will apply toward becoming a radiologist. Janay, a four-year student from Niagara Falls, said she plans to attend the University at Buffalo for a degree in criminal justice.
"I'm excited," said Janay. "I think it's time for us to branch out to do what we really love to do, and what we are passionate in doing."
"Randolph changed me a lot," Angelica said. "I'm proud of myself, because I was here for a reason, and I never thought I would (get my degree)."
Both Angelica and Janay said their time spent at Randolph has helped prepare them for the future.
"I think by having everybody help us with what we want to do, I think we can just have that support and go out and do it," said Janay.
"For me, it's a bittersweet thing," said Angelica. "I learned that structure is something that we're going to have to live without once we leave. So, it's good that they provided us with the structure, but the summer is going to be the hardest for us as we transition to college."
During the ceremony three awards were also given to graduates. They were: the Lester Sweeting Memorial Scholarship, a $500 cash award; the George Beliles Memorial Award and the Beliles Family Award; and the NYS Character, Courage and Citizenship Awards.
According to Brad Sande, development director of New Directions Youth and Family Services, the goal of the Randolph Academy is to provide its students with regents diplomas.
"The thing we're trying to do is make the most out of each kid's natural abilities," he said. "And if they have the ability to graduate with a regents diploma and go on to college, it's a big deal."
Sande said in the past three years, the academy has seen nearly 10 of its students proceed to JCC. Over the past 19 years, Sande said, the academy has seen 151 students graduate with a high school diploma.