The Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School's 2014 Commencement exercises held Friday were beautifully thought out.
Starting on an unusual note, school Superintendent Jon Peterson called 80-year-old Korean War veteran Eugene Kennison to the stage to present him with an honorary diploma. It seems that as an impetuous teenager, Kennison had enlisted in the army to fight in Korea instead of finishing high school.
"So, this evening, I am pleased to present to you all, probably the oldest graduate our school has had," Peterson joked.
The formal welcome was delivered by Kaylee Eaton, who said she'd received a lot of kidding about her ambition to become a geologist. Sticking to her theme, she told her classmates, "Everyone can rock the world."
Holly Chamberlain then played the haunting notes of "Chopin's Farewell" on her violin. The music served as a tribute to much-beloved June Karrassik, a former elementary principal of the school.
In an interesting twist, this year's valedictorian and salutatorian were each introduced by a younger sibling. Both Claire Dowdall and Evan Stern set high academic standards for themselves throughout their school years, ending up with weighted averages just over a point apart. They may have been spurred on by a number of other top students, who were always at their heels.
Tanner Stern introduced his brother, who presented an intriguing analogy comparing his fear of failure with a child's fear of monsters in the closet. "But," he concluded, "the monsters are in there only if you think they are. Fear is a lot of the same."
Dowdall was introduced by her sister Layne. Claire drew laughter when she admitted that she wasn't sure that the honor of delivering the valedictorian address truly outweighed the dread of writing and reading it before a large audience. "And so," she said, "I've made it short." She imparted a memorable ending, borrowed, she said, from Harry Potter. "It does not do to dwell on dreams," she cautioned, "and forget to live."
Richard Feuz delivered the commencement address, and it fulfilled the graduates' expectations. Since they'd had him as an English teacher through most of their high school years (he only retired a year ago) they pretty much expected a slew of one-liners. What they didn't expect was the very real emotion that came through as their "old teacher" spoke to them "from the heart."
"Your life is a work in progress," Feuz said. "Do the best you can. Make good choices."
Then he grinned and said, "One of my favorite kids was this 15-year-old who said he couldn't wait to graduate so he'd never have to do what anyone wanted him to ever again."
'So you're ruling out marriage and a job,' I told him.
Feuz ended on a high note. "Hope is a good thing," he said. "Maybe the best thing, and no good thing ever dies."
At that point, the names of a number of senior award and prize recipients were read off. These were in addition to the many awards presented in a previous assembly.
The evening ended with the presentation of diplomas, after which the happy graduates filed from the auditorium. A somewhat fluid receiving line was formed outside and much back-slapping and hand-shaking was done before the huge crowd headed home.