Commencement Address: Remarks to the Class of 2019

Tonight, we come together for an event that truly captures the essence of what it means to be a member of the Dobbs Ferry community. I am now finishing my 8th year as the principal of this amazing high school, and you are the 85th group of graduates to walk the halls of our current school building. And each graduating class that has walked the halls of our school had its own unique character, and touched our school in a way that remains forever.

And like you, each of those graduates walked across the stage to receive a Dobbs Ferry High School diploma, just as you will in a little while. They were cheered on by proud parents and family members, just as you will be, and they were excited and perhaps a bit anxious about what the future holds, just as you probably are. But remember this. Today, your great achievement is shared in equal measure by the joy, sacrifice, and love of your parents and families, and this day is as much about them, as it is about you. As is tradition, I would like to ask all of you, our graduates, to please stand and give your parents and families a round of applause for the tireless sacrifice and support that they have given throughout your life.

I would also like to thank the wonderful administration and faculty of DFHS. Each year, we welcome new staff members to our school and, in some years, we sadly say good-bye to others who retire from our district after many years of dedicated service. This year, we say good-bye to Ms. Leslie Stein, who will retire after 22 years of dedicated service to the students and families of Dobbs Ferry. During her time at Dobbs Ferry High School, Ms. Stein taught all areas of social studies, with a focus on IB History, United States History, and IB Theory of Knowledge. She has also served as our IB Extended Essay and CAS Coordinator. Ms. Stein is an exceptional teacher in every sense of the word, and is now part of the long rich history of excellence of Dobbs Ferry High School. We wish her the very best in her future travels, and as she spends much deserved time with friends and family. Thank you, Leslie Stein, on behalf of the teachers and students, past and present, of Dobbs Ferry

Each year, as I prepare my final remarks to the graduating class, I am drawn to a moment, an event, or a concept that best captures some aspect of what it means to be part of Dobbs Ferry, and with that a graduate of our high school. Sometimes it comes to me early on in the year, and in others it has come days before graduation, and it is usually rooted in some aspect of our school’s proud history. While it was tempting to select that moment when this group of graduates went on to win back-to-back Mac Field Days, winning as both juniors and seniors, it actually came a few months later for me. This year, it came on the evening in March during the Gold Ball basketball game at Pace University.

As a kid growing up on Long Island in the 1980s during a time when the Mets were the toast of the town, I had the benefit of being raised to be a Yankee fan. As a Yankee fan, I learned very quickly that history matters, tradition matters, and that each player is part of something that is much bigger than each of the individuals who fill out the roster each season. That tradition has now been passed on to my own kids, and all three of them can easily rattle off the names and numbers of Yankee legends like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Don Mattingly, and Derek Jeter. For us, the Yankees are part of our culture, our tradition, and the team belongs to the people, so we use words like “us” and “we” when referring to it.

On the evening of the Gold Ball game, I was reminded that these same principles apply to all of us right here in Dobbs Ferry. Sitting behind me that night, I overheard a woman say, “…I was a freshman at THE high school the last time we won a Gold Ball.” The year that she was referring to was 1967, and it became so clear that this game, at that moment, was about so much more than winning a Gold Ball. It was about our village, our history, our pride, our tradition, our culture…and we too used words like “us” and “we” when talking to anyone who was dressed in Dobbs blue and white. From alumni dating back as long as 50 years ago to recent alumni, students, parents, past and present teachers, local business owners, village officials, and many more, that game further united what is already a close knit family.

Sure, we may disagree, even argue sometimes like families do, but on that night, at that moment, we were all one, and we all knew that Dobbs Ferry was bigger than all of us, and we were all part of a moment that would be etched in our school’s history. But while our history was on clear display in that arena, the group that served as the heart, energy, and life-force of our team and school was each of you, our graduating seniors. And not surprisingly, this group of seniors, led by Dimaunie Meredith and the 3-Point Club, created a new legacy, as we untied with Irvington to wear t-shirts with the hashtag #RivertownsUnite. And together, we united behind our team to bring that Gold Ball back home, and that’s precisely what they did.

I’m always touched when I’m reminded of how many of our students have had parents who graduated from our high school. That legacy speaks to the pride that we all feel about our village, about our schools, about our home. Tonight we have thirteen different graduating seniors who will be called to walk across the stage just as their parents did years ago. That group includes Elizabeth Valentin, Erica Joao (JOA), Victoria Amendola, Samantha and Patrick Straub, Kailee Tobacco, Taylor Lyman, Steven Williams, Nicholas and Justin Mohl, Kyle Addis, Aaron Paul Doss, and Jack Capuano. We also have teachers who graduated from our high school, as Serena Buschi did in 1987, and you will also hear the name Raquel Addona called to walk across the stage, because her mom, a beloved teacher at our school, moved to this village because she knows that there is no place like Dobbs Ferry. And if you are here in 2030, which I hope to be, you will hear the name Griffin Kamke in our list of graduates, and that young man will walk across the stage just as his father, Police Office Justin Kamke did, in 1995.

Our village is unique too because it continues to attract so many new families that are now creating a new generation of Dobbs Ferry residents. From so many students who move here from abroad, to the many new families that now call Dobbs Ferry home, our village continues to grow, has a vibrant culture, and is definitely the place to be of all the Rivertowns. And in 25 or 30 years, I’m sure the Principal at that time will be standing on this stage talking about the history that is yet to happen, and mentioning the names of the children who had mothers and fathers who graduated from the Class of 2019. And with that, the torch will continue to be passed to a new generation of Dobbs Ferry graduates.

So before you go out to start your next chapter, whatever that chapter may be, there is one final important lesson to be learned from our history, our tradition, and from being a product of Dobbs Ferry:

Be prepared to Adapt as Inevitable Change will come your way. In order to find success, and with that personal growth and fulfillment, you must possess the ability to adapt when change comes your way and, when necessary, reinvent to become a better version of the person that you had been before. While the rich history of our school and village has certainly been noted, one thing that has set us apart has been our ability to adapt and reinvent as times have changed, and new challenges have come our way. We saw this when we became the first school in the county to bring in the IB Program, and we see it through other programs like science research, the arts, and the use of technology. Because unlike 1967 when we last won that Gold Ball, we cannot say with certainty what jobs will exist in the next twenty years. But what we do know is that the education that you have received here in Dobbs Ferry has provided you with the skills necessary to learn independently, to collaborate, to problem solve, and to adapt when inevitable change does come your way.

For you, this might happen in college, when you realize that the major that you selected was not the best path for you after all. It might happen with a personal relationship, when you realize that it is best to part ways with a person because they do not make you the best version of the person that you hope to be. Or it may happen in the workforce, when you realize that the job that you have is on the brink of becoming obsolete, and you need to move to a new direction. Everyone needs to adapt and, when necessary, reinvent. Your parents have done it, you school has done it, heck even the Yankees had to do it, as baseball has evolved into a game that is now driven almost exclusively by analytics and statistical prediction.

But as you move on to the next phase, one thing that must never change, and must be unwavering, is what is inside all of you. That is your heart, your kindness, your compassion, and your empathy. It is those qualities that are true recipe for peace and happiness, both inwardly and throughout the world, and are the qualities that will help you to successfully adapt to any change, while staying true to who you really are and what you’re all about. And as you move forward, always remember that no matter where life takes you, you have family that loves you, friends who will be by your side, and that you will always be part of the “us” and “we” that unites all of us right here in Dobbs Ferry.

I wish you all the very best as you move on the next stage of your lives.

Congratulations to the Dobbs Ferry Class of 2019.

 

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