by Brendan Clavin
It was an afternoon filled with an array of emotions for the 71 seniors of Pierson High School’s 2012 graduating class. The annual commencement unfolded Saturday on the school’s front lawn, as is tradition, and this year was punctuated with stories of how decisions and choices made now will affect the graduates’ lives in the future.
In addition to the excitement of moving on to a new stage of life, the graduates seemed to have a collective feeling of relief — the day not only marked the beginning of their summer vacation and evoked a sense of accomplishment from completing four years of high school, but a reprieve from the extremely hot and humid weather the area had experienced in the few days preceding the ceremony.
As a light breeze filled the air, friends, family and faculty looked on as the students marched out to “Pomp and Circumstance” making their way towards their chairs in front of the audience.
In an optimistic yet bittersweet speech, class president and salutatorian Michael Heller described the bonds he and his graduating classmates had made in the many years they had spent together in the same community, and how they must now embark on a new stage of their lives that would take them all in many different directions.
“It is both sad and exciting to say that this is where our paths diverge,” he said. “The past has been shared by all of us, but the future is indeed our own.”
After thanking those in the school and the community who had helped him get to where he was standing that day, including his grandfather, who he described as a powerful role model in his life, Heller made way for the class valedictorian, Samuel Miller.
Miller also expressed gratitude for the many sources of guidance he had received throughout his school career, and went on to describe the growing amount of responsibility the graduating class would continue to face as they go out into the world as high school graduates.
Accepting that his generation would be “entering a world facing troubling times,” the valedictorian admitted that the future may seem somewhat bleak.
“However,” he declared in a brave tone, “I have faith that these challenges will instead provide an opportunity for us to prove ourselves.”
The afternoon’s keynote speaker was Dr. Blake Kerr, the lead practicing physician at the Wainscott Walk-in Medical Center.
Dr. Kerr’s involvement in the health care profession extends far beyond the South Fork. His work on behalf of human rights was documented in his interview in the January 6 edition of the Sag Harbor Express, his book Sky Burial: An Eyewitness Account of China’s Brutal Crackdown in Tibet, published last December with a Foreword by the Dalai Lama, and the documentary film “The Angry Skies: A Cambodia Journey,” released on DVD in January.
In his address to the students, Dr. Kerr described his harrowing journey after medical school which led him to the top of Mount Everest, the streets of Lhasa, an interrogation room in Beijing, and even the house of the Dalai Lama.
After witnessing multiple public executions of Tibetan people, Dr. Kerr became immersed in the riots of Chinese National Day in 1987 when he began treating victims of Chinese police brutality. Not only was this his first medical experience, but it was the beginning of his involvement in documenting human rights violations in Tibet.
Dr. Kerr related his story to the students in front of him by quoting something the Dalai Lama had told him when they met for the first time: “Everyone has their own path, and it’s important for everyone to follow their own path.” Dr. Kerr’s path, he found, was to help others through both his medical practice and his attention to the Tibetan people.
But his advice seemed to be universal in addressing all young students who are moving on from high school.
“We need each of you to follow your own dreams, your own passions, to embrace your own mistakes,” Dr. Kerr stated toward the end of his address. “Adversity is one of our best teachers.”
The ceremony ended with the traditional sprint to the top of Pierson hill, the graduating class throwing their caps to the sky to mark the end of their high school journey and the start of bigger things.