GOWANDA - The sun was shining as a sea of blue and white caps and gowns adorned Hillis Field - and it wasn't for a football game. The graduates of the Class of 2013 lined the field Friday evening as family, friends and loved ones watched as they turned their tassels.
Dr. Robert Anderson, high school principal, welcomed the class and spectators to the 129th annual commencement. Anderson said graduation was a time to celebrate the students' hard work for the past 13 years and believes their education be a "solid foundation" to grow upon. He said that every graduating class has challenges to face once out in the real world, but in today's world those challenges are political, social and economic in nature.
"The challenges facing you are different than years past," said Anderson. "... I have faith that you will do well."
OBSERVER Photo by Samantha McDonnell
The Class of 2013 was encouraged to be meaningful and memorable by guest speaker Brian Haynes, a 1977 graduate.
Seneca Nation of Indians President Barry Snyder reminisced of when he graduated in 1957. He told the students graduation marks an important milestone in their lives. He told students it's OK to wonder about the future. Snyder said the future is not something that happens but is created by students' individual paths. He also told the students to be a great 'tool' in the shed, quoting the well-known metaphor.
"Make sure you're the sharpest tool you can be when someone reaches for you in the future," Snyder said.
Salutatorian Justin Sowa remembered when he was an "awkward 14 year old" as a freshman starting high school. He joked that is not the case anymore because he is an awkward 18 year old. Sowa said he is proud to be from Gowanda. When his mother was diagnosed with cancer in December, he said the community came together to show their support.
"This ordeal really showed me what this little community can do," he said. "(Gowanda) is a great community I live in."
Sowa gave his fellow graduates some advice; he said to those who cannot wait to leave Gowanda to enjoy the time spent there. For those students who do not want to leave, Sowa said high school years are enjoyable but that doesn't mean staying for an extra year or two. For students who aren't sure what the future holds, Sowa suggested students embrace it.
Alexa Farner, valedictorian, told students that high school is full of "bittersweet failures" between losing sports games, not scoring well on papers or not getting a lead in the musical. She encouraged students to be determined and to challenge themselves in the future.
"If we put our hearts into something, we will come out triumphant," Farner said.
Graduation marks the beginning, not the end she told the students. For the future, students should find their passion, have confidence, be humble, be confident in their abilities, take charge and make their mark on the world.
"Take your shot. If you miss, grab the rebound," Farner said.
The guest speaker was Brian Haynes, a 1977 graduate of Gowanda and deputy chief of mission technology development for NSA. Haynes told the students to use the candy, M&Ms, to remind them to be meaningful and memorable and have meaningful and memorable experiences.
Haynes remembered some of his 'M&M' moments in high school including graduation on Hillis Field, rafting in Cattaraugus Creek, marching in local parades and watching movies at the Hollywood Theater. He also said through his experiences, he has learned that no one succeeds by themselves.
"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm," Haynes said.
He suggested the students thank those meaningful and memorable people in their lives following graduation and to keep in touch with teachers and thank them. He hoped the students, whenever eating candy, would remember his graduation speech.
"I challenge you when you eat candy, chew gum or eat something sweet, you think about something meaningful and memorable," Haynes said.
As a lasting gift, the Class of 2013 gave a new record board for track and field which will be hung near the high school gym. Each graduate also gave Anderson a piece of a puzzle that will have to be put together. A total of 89 students received diplomas and counted to 13 before turning their tassels.
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