Class of 2024 celebrates commencement

A wide shot of graduation at MVP Arena. There are rows of chairs on the floor of the arena. GHS students are wearing red robes and white gowns. The stage is to the right

Guilderland High School’s graduating class celebrated commencement on Wednesday, June 26, in a ceremony that was both poignant and uplifting and sent the senior class off with messages of encouragement, acceptance and strength. Commencement exercises took place at the MVP Arena in Albany.

In her address to graduates, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marie Wiles spoke about “blind spots.” When driving, a blind spot is the area around a vehicle that drivers can’t easily see or where their vision is blocked. Dr. Wiles raised this topic because, just as all cars have blind spots, so do all people; not literal blind spots, but rather those aspects of our being that preclude us from fully seeing, understanding and appreciating certain people and certain points of view. She urged the graduating class to be open to learning more about others and their perspectives. “You will have countless opportunities to learn more about people and their points of view, be sure to be open to that learning.”

Dr. Wiles spoke about Gabriel Zullo, a twelfth grade student who passed away on May 29 after a brave, nearly five-year battle with cancer. She reflected on his incredibly positive attitude throughout his illness and his love for school.

William Parson, the student speaker, addressed his classmates, reflecting on how this class began at GHS in the midst of a global health pandemic when half of the students attended school at one time. He believes the challenges they faced molded them to be versatile and adaptable; those traits will serve them well in the future as they encounter the obstacles that are guaranteed in life. Parsons spoke about the impact and accomplishments of Class of 2024 and how they are already making a difference in the world, as evidenced by the March for our Lives club at GHS. “Change can be small and persistent and enacted by just about anybody. There are young individuals making strides and changes to New York State wide legislation, affecting something larger than themselves. We leave this school prepared to be leaders in whatever we choose to do, prime to make changes, if only we allow ourselves.”

GHS Michael Piscitelli talked about courage and how it can take many forms. Throughout their time at GHS the graduating class may have tried something new or taken a risk and, while these experiences could have been anxiety producing, they gave students the opportunity to work through feelings and come out a stronger person. He reminded the students of the courage of Gabe Zullo. While faced with a daunting disease, Gabe never lost hope, which, to Mr. Piscitelli, is a tremendous sign of courage. He asked the students to keep Gabe’s memory alive and when confronted with problems to do so as Gabe did, with courage and positivity. He then invited Gabe’s mother to the front of the stage to receive the GHS diploma Gabe had earned. Many members of the class wore pins bearing a photo of Gabe and a chair was dedicated to him on the arena floor, among his classmates.

Mr. Piscitelli finished his remarks by offering two pieces of advice, the first being “don’t avoid challenges because of the fear of failure or of making mistakes. Situations that cause the most growth are often the times when we have made mistakes or failed at something.” Mr. Piscitelli’s second piece of advice was to “embrace new opportunities. While it’s natural to focus on what can go wrong when faced with a new opportunity, it’s important to realize that no matter the outcome, you will grow from that experience.” He urged the students to switch their mindset from what can go wrong to what could happen if they are successful and to view the opportunity as a chance to grow. “Go forth with courage, embrace new challenges and create a future you can be proud of.”

Class of 2024 Co-Vice President Avery Kerr introduced Guest Speaker, Kousha Navidar. An Iranian native, Navidar moved to the United States as young child, with his family settling in Guilderland. A 2006 graduate of GHS, he went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Duke University and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University. Mr. Navidar has had several different occupations, including high school math teacher through Teach for America and speech writer; currently he hosts a live daily show on an NPR affiliate station.

During his remarks Mr. Navidar shared three secrets to help the Class of 2024 survive both failure and success as they figure out their journey — how to get comfortable, how to find joy and how to thrive along the way. He reassured the students that while they may be nervous that they are never going to be “somebody,” they already are somebody, and with care and growth and by helping others to grow, they are certain to make a positive difference. Life will deliver hard lessons but they will also have awesome triumphs and sweet embarrassing failures. And he promised them that the “ride of life” is  “beautiful, it is hard and you are going to love it.”

The commencement program included the senior class video produced by Katelyn Dickerson and Avery Kerr and a musical performance of “Capriccio Italien” by the Guilderland High School Symphony Orchestra, led by Director Susan Curro.

You can watch the 2024 Commencement Ceremony on the GHS Media YouTube channel.

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