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Five Easy Lessons

Posted on 01 July 2011

Heller_Pierson 2011 Graduation_6611

by Courtney M. Holbrook


After years of tests and classes, grades and extracurricular activities, the seniors of Pierson High School are done. Some will go on to more grades and classes at their respective universities; others will take different paths.

The 2011 class of Pierson High School graduated on Saturday, June 25. Although the day began with promises of rain, the sky was clear and the wind blew softly — one that signaled the end of days past and the promise of new beginnings.

At 5 p.m., the 2011 class filed down the grassy hill in front of Pierson High School. The girls wore white gowns and the boys wore black. On the sidelines, parents and siblings, grandparents and godparents, aunts and uncles and more stood smiling and flashing photographs.

As the students took their seats on the white chairs arrayed before the audience, the Pierson Band and the Sag Harbor Community Band sounded out the processional. After the Pledge of Allegiance, the Senior Chorus of Pierson High School sang the National Anthem. Members in the crowd gently sang along, some voices loud, others soft.

After introductions made by Elizabeth Oldak, a Pierson 2011 graduate, Gabriel Burford stepped forward. He was to make the salutatorian address. He warned the crowd that he was not known “for the length of my sentences,” but he would do his best.

“To our parents, you got your kids on this hill alive,” Burford said. “And here we are. Thank you.”

Noticing the mild applause, Burford shouted, “This isn’t a funeral, no one died. So let’s here it.”

Burford’s twin brother, Graham Connor Burford, then approached the podium to give the valedictorian address. His address was marked by a discussion of art and academics, noting, “If we use our imaginations and our creativity, we will turn out with our smiles still on.” However, the audience applauded when, at the end of his speech, he pulled out a ukulele.

“This is a cross between Bruno Marx and Jack Johnson melodies,” Burford said. “Hopefully it will work.”

For the audience, it did work out. They cheered at the end when Burford welcomed the students to the “freedom” of post-high school life.

Awards followed the valedictorian and salutatorian speeches as numerous students stepped down to receive their scholastic, artistic and athletic honors. Then, Joan Frisicano, the former principal of Sag Harbor Elementary School, gave the commencement address.

“When they first asked me to do this, I honestly said, ‘Wow, budget cuts must have cut deep this year,” Frisicano said to audience laughter. “But I of course immediately accepted. I was so honored.”

Frisicano’s speech was the second graduation speech she had made to many of the Pierson graduates. She doubted they remembered her speech to them seven years ago, when they left elementary school. Now, she offered new lessons for the world after high school.

Frisicano divided her lessons into five parts — “seize the moment,” “you decide,” “go for it,” “hang in there” and “do some good.” Seemingly simple, she elaborated, offering suggestions and philosophical anecdotes to encourage the new graduates.

“Young people today are gifted in some ways, cursed in others,” Frisicano said. “You have instant access to everything, but success is not instantaneous. You have to take it up and do things that aren’t as exciting as you’d like, don’t pay as much as you like, in order to succeed.”

Frisicano concluded the speech with hope and discussed the “beginning of a new adventure and a life well lived with purpose” for the graduates.

The Pierson Senior Chorus returned to the stage as Frisicano left the podium. They sang, “What I Did for Love,” from the musical, “A Chorus Line.”

At the last refrain, the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. John Gratto, and the principal of Pierson, Jeff Nichols, stepped up to the podium. The time the students and families had been waiting for had arrived. They presented the diplomas for the class of 2011.

After each student stood up holding the paper that granted him or her entryway to life beyond high school, they sang the alma mater.

Finally, they walked back down the aisle in two rows of white and black, with family members standing alongside the chalk-lined rows on the green grass. As they passed through the audience of chairs, some of the previous solemnity evaporated, and the new graduates started running through the lawn.

The Pierson High School class of 2011 had officially graduated. It was time for new goals and adventures.

“May I present the class of 2011,” Nichols said. “Congratulations.”

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