By Ellen Frankman
On Saturday, 71 graduates walked across the outdoor stage to receive their high school diplomas from Sag Harbor’s Pierson High School. In one of those perfect early summer afternoons on Pierson hill, the late afternoon sun sat low in the sky, nestled in haze, and cast long shadows across the students and those there to support them.
The young men and women, dressed in black and white gowns, proceeded past rows of friends and family members to take their seats beneath the shadow of their school, as Pierson graduated its 105th class.
Salutatorian Gabrielle Gardiner spoke first. She recalled the experience of traveling to New Orleans for orientation at Tulane University where she will attend school in the fall. Those she met at Tulane had never heard of Sag Harbor, and only vaguely understood what it meant to be from “the Hamptons.”
“They didn’t get it,” said Gardiner. “Not everyone has a connection to the place they live. Not everyone knows what it’s like to grow up in a town with such a strong sense of community.”
Gardiner thanked those that have helped her and her peers to get so far, including parents and teachers.
“At the end of the day, it’s the people we’re here with that make this place so special,” said Gardiner.
She concluded by challenging her fellow students to go forward boldly into the future, without losing sight of their roots.
“Challenge the norm, be tenacious, stay grounded, and above all never forget who we are and where we came from,” said Gardiner.
Valedictorian Dana Harvey spoke next, also focusing on both the uncertainty and excitement of what’s to come.
“No matter what we choose to do in the future, Pierson will affect our thinking,” said Harvey, who credited close relationships with great teachers as an invaluable part of his high school experience.
Harvey also noted the unique dynamic of Pierson High School, in which small class sizes allow students to accept their peers as they are.
“I have had the pleasure of getting to know everyone in this grade, which not every kid in high school can say,” said Harvey. “We could all be ourselves, but still be accepted.”
Principal Jeff Nichols awarded the Principal’s Award to Elizabeth Grigonis, a student who has overcome adversity and achieved at a very high level. The 2013 graduation awards were also handed out, with dozens of students receiving community scholarships and 24 members of the senior class signified as being members of the National Honor Society.
Sag Harbor resident and screenwriter Bill Collage then took the stage to give the 2013 commencement address, a task he took on 25 years ago when he gave a commencement speech at his own graduation in 1988.
“The completion of high school serves as the end of Act I of things,” said Collage. Act II, he said, is where things get a little trickier. Away from the care of their parents and teachers, the students will be entirely on their own, left to make independent decisions for themselves.
“Today you stand on the threshold of a completely new part of your life,” said Collage “You are the hero. You will make mistakes and have successes. You will fall in love, you will laugh harder than you ever imagined…and with any luck, you will find the answers to the great questions in life.”
Collage advised that the students, though on their own, take help in Act II, and that college will not provide all of the tools necessary for the rest of their lives.
“No quote will hold true at every moment of your life like this one,” he quipped, taking a comic moment to pause and allow the students to Tweet him.
“But you guys are the action generation, the ones who understand that not only is anything possible, but the possible should be acted upon,” said Collage. He stressed the importance of character, the moral and ethical values that define all of us as individuals and which the students must hold on to.
Following the student remembrances and remarks from the Superintendent of Schools Dr. Carl Bonuso, senior chorus members performed “Graduation,” a song by Sara Hartman who sang lead vocals and played guitar, bringing many in the audience to their feet in a round of applause.
The diploma ceremony concluded the commencement and Sag Harbor’s graduating class made it’s way two-by-two, back down through the grass aisle before turning to run up Pierson hill.
As graduation caps soared through the air, Collage’s commencement words resounded in the air.
“This is your story to write. You are both the hero and the author.”