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commencement

BHS grads 'take the next step' during 141st ceremony Friday

By Joanne Beck
Commencement Guest Speaker and English teacher Kim Przybysz addresses the Class of 2023
Commencement Guest Speaker and English teacher Kim Przybysz addresses the Class of 2023 during Friday's Batavia High School graduation ceremony.
Photo by Steve Ognibene.

There was a contingency plan for Batavia City School District’s commencement ceremony Friday evening, just in case the clouds — which threatened all day long in grumpy gray masses — gave way to thunderstorms.

But by later afternoon, it was all systems go as the school of blue and white opted to move forward, not long before a short blip of rain came down to tempt the Blue Devils’ steadfastness. The Class members of 2023 lived up to a word repeatedly attributed to them in the evening’s speeches: they were resilient.

With clear umbrellas in hand and some rags to wipe off the makeshift stage and nearby awards and diplomas, school officials and students strolled through graduation with every bit of pomp and circumstance, albeit with a few raindrops here and there out at Van Detta Stadium field.

It seemed only natural for how they began as ninth-graders.

“I want to congratulate you on your graduation this year. As freshmen, you experienced the beginning of the pandemic and have shown resilience to get to where you are today. I am very proud of all this class has accomplished,” High School Principal Paul Kesler said.

He listed several of those accomplishments, including the band’s “outstanding” ratings in several categories during a recent competition, the Mr. Batavia event that raised more than $5,000 for multiple charities, the musical “Les Miserables” and its stellar reviews at Stars of Tomorrow, plus the myriad sports championships and academic feats for the 148 graduates.

There were 29 National Honor Society students, six Genesee Valley BOCES National Tech Honor Society members, seven Tri-M Honor Society, and five National Art Honor Society members, he said, and 62 percent of the class earned more than $2 million in scholarships for higher education. 

Of those students, 42 are planning to attend four-year schools, while 46 are geared toward two-year schools and six toward post-secondary schools. Another 39 are headed to the workforce with offers for employment, and four are on the road to military service, he said. A hefty 141 students earned a Regents diploma.

So with all of those accolades, what was left for him to say? Especially given that this will be Kesler’s last year as high school principal before he moves back to John Kennedy. 

After mulling the possibilities for a speech, he landed on three key takeaways from significant people who have impacted his life, Kesler said.

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Photos by Steve Ognibene

Mr. Paul Kesler, Principal
Paul Kesler, BHS Principal

A 90-year-old veteran who often checked on how Kesler was doing in his school leadership role taught him lesson number one: to “encourage people.” His father doled out one of life’s greatest gifts, and that taught Kesler about lesson number two: “Be kind.” 

And Kesler couldn’t help but include those oft-repeated words of the late city school district substitute teacher, mentor and friend Jim Owen about not accepting setbacks. So that’s lesson number three: “When you have a setback, you can come back and recover from obstacles,” Kesler said.

“I am so thankful to have had a front-row seat to see many of you recover from obstacles to get where you are today,” he said. “So today, I want to let all of you know how proud I am of you. But most of all, continue to be young people who come back when you have a setback, encourage others, and be kind. It has been a great honor to be your principal. Congratulations, Class of 2023.”

Guest speaker and English teacher Kim Przybysz encouraged this group of anxious, soon-to-be academically free young adults not to be defined by one aspect of their life, warning against the “danger of a single story.”

“It might be easy to allow the whirlwind that was lockdown, or hybrid learning, or the mayhem that is all of those years combined, to dominate your narrative. But that would be a woefully incomplete story. I want to challenge you to rewrite the story right now. What have you worked hard to overcome? What have you been proud of? What have you shared? How can you change that narrative, that single story?” she said.

“Let me help you. Class of 2023, I can tell you, you have lots to be proud of. When I think of you, I think of your resilience. Your perseverance. Your ability to overcome adversity. Your sitting here tonight is evidence of that.

“When I think of you, I think of your compassion and heart. I think of your altruism; so many of you have given back to your school community and the Batavia community at large. I think of the ways you’ve gone out of your way to help others -- be it underclassmen, each other -- I think of your honest care and concern. 

"I, personally, have often been on the receiving end of that kindness, and I am so grateful for it. When I think of you, I think of your passion. You are fierce advocates, for causes dear to your heart, for your peers, for yourselves," she said. "Continue to harness your voice to demand action, to seek to make the world around you a better place. You are powerful change agents. Believe that.”

The words of advice were plentiful, including from students Jack and Noah Pickard, who ended their jointly given speech with a quote from ultra-marathoner David Goggins, that “most wars are won or lost in our own heads,” capped off with their own: “you are the only person that can make your success happen.”

And from student Clara Wood, who acknowledged that change can be absolutely terrifying, and moving on from high school “is certainly a monumental change.”

“But as a class, we experienced more insanity, hardship, and unpredictability compared to what is usual, and we have to somehow use this to our advantage. We need to somehow realize that we are more than the worst things we have ever been through. We need to somehow recognize that every day is an opportunity to rise above the challenges we are forced to grapple with, and somehow we need to allow ourselves to be proud of everything we have accomplished despite those challenges,” she said. “In the future, when we look back on our high school years, our view will be very different than most. My hope is that we will be able to look back and not have sadness by the feeling that arises.

“My hope is that we will reflect on our time in high school and remember the fact that no matter what, there will always be struggle and uncertainty, but that sometimes hardship is essential for us to realize all that we are capable of,” she said. “Struggle allows us to realize how good the happiness that follows truly is.”

School Superintendent Jason Smith’s message came from a fictional tale, “The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and The Horse.” It weaves through various lessons from each character while on a journey, including the value of compassion, the way in which we react to things, and honesty.

It ends with Smith’s favorite part, he said, and a lesson for graduates and audience members alike. That is, to take the next step.

“That is my final message to you, members of the Class of 2023: take the next step when challenges come your way. Keep moving forward,” he said.

Mr. Jason A. Smith, Superintendent of Schools
Jason A. Smith, Superintendent of Schools
Photo left to right, Co-Mayors Noah and Jack Pickard
Photo left to right, Co-Mayors Noah and Jack Pickard
Student Speaker Crristina M. Brown
Student Speaker, Senior Christina M. Brown
Student Speaker Senior Clara Wood
Student Speaker, Senior Clara Wood
Family and friends at Vandetta Stadium along with the Batavia High School Band
Family and friends at Van Detta Stadium, along with the Batavia High School Band.
Assistant Principal, Mrs Jessica Korzelius shares a hug to Alessia Bruce
Assistant Principal, Jessica Korzelius, shares a hug with Alessia Bruce.
Senior Jevon Griffin looking to the stands at his parents along with Superintendent of Schools Jason Smith smiles after presenting his diploma
Senior Jevon Griffin looking to the stands at his parents as Superintendent of Schools Jason Smith smiles after presenting his diploma.
Jevon Griffins family cheering him in the moment of him receiving his diploma
Jevon Griffin's family cheering him in the moment of him receiving his diploma
Senior Aidan A. Anderson turns his tassle right to left commencing him and the Class of 2023 officially graduated
Senior Aidan A. Anderson turns his tassel right to left, commencing him and the Class of 2023 officially graduated.
Family photo moment with senior Abby Moore
Family photo moment with senior Abby Moore.
Senior Olivia Shell hugging English Teacher Kim Przybysz sharing a hugs and tears, saying good byes and good luck in college studying education.
Senior Olivia Shell hugging English Teacher Kim Przybysz, sharing hugs and tears, saying goodbyes and good luck in college.

Notre Dame High School Class of 2022 shares gratitude and thanks

By Steve Ognibene

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Sunday’s Notre Dame High School graduation ceremony was filled with thank-yous, encouraging quotes and acknowledgments for those who played a part in the celebratory finale.

For Salutatorian Lucia Sprague, the day was about expressing appreciation for everyone from her fellow students to faculty members.

“When writing a speech, I wanted to thank … the teachers and staff, so we could succeed and prosper to the best of our ability. Thank you for devoting your lives to the pursuit of knowledge,” she said at Resurrection Parish. “To our families, thank you for nurturing us and never giving up on us. By being here today, you are supporting the young men and women that you love and cherish. To our coaches, thank you for the hours you have put in, molding us as accomplished athletes. The lessons you have taught us on the field and in the court are some of the best lessons (we had). To my fellow seniors, you have all made it so far and be proud of yourselves.  I could not be more grateful.”

Co-valedictorians Gavin Schrader and Nathaniel Brew also were full of thanks for family members, friends and school staff. At the risk of being redundant, Brew wanted to emphasize a phrase that he figured everyone has already heard some 20,000 times.

“High school has been some of the best and worst years of my life. People tell you to grow up, but also enjoy life because it goes by so fast. I’m grateful for everything Notre Dame has done for us,” Brew said. “And for the 20,000th and first time, ND is a family. Good luck to our graduating class.”

The Class of 2022 — decked out in yellow gold and navy blue — received that final certificate of accomplishment for not just the last four years at the Batavia-based private school, but for the 13-year journey of an important educational career, Principal Wade Bianco said.

The journey doesn’t happen without the support of others, though, he said. He asked that, first the grandparents, followed by parents, and finally faculty, staff and coaches to stand up and be recognized for the pivotal roles they had within each graduate’s success story.

Families make sacrifices to send their children to Notre Dame “and help us lift them to achieve their dreams,” he said, and school employees provide leadership to get the job done.

“You don’t become rich working at Notre Dame, but you know where you do? You get rich in your heart, your mind and your soul …you get the experience of working with these kids.”

An avid reader, Bianco often likes to share positive messages that he gleans from various writers. His advice, from Henry Ford, Dr. Seuss and many others, included that, before you act or react, think; earn before you spend; wait before you criticize and try before quitting. He encouraged students to never stop questioning, whether it’s directed at college professors, politicians, or even themselves.

“My wish for you is that this life becomes all that you want it to be: your dreams stay big, your worries stay small,” he said, continuing to borrow from motivational quotes. “Obstacles are the frightful things you see who you take your eyes off the goal. Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.”

Be open to all of the possibilities out there, he said, to anything that their futures may bring, while also celebrating today’s achievements. And, perhaps the most notable quote of all, for when pursuing challenges that seem too daunting.

“Try one more time,” he said.

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Top photo, left to right is Notre Dame Assistant Principal Mike Rapone, Salutatorian Lucia Sprague, Co-Valdictorians Nathaniel Brew, Gavin Schrader, Director of Academic Advisement & Communications Kristen Gomez, Principal Wade Bianco

To view or purchase photos, click here.

Photos by Steve Ognibene

Graduates get one more lesson at GCC commencement: embrace failure to keep learning

By Tate Fonda

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As he waxed a bit of nostalgia while standing before Genesee Community College’s Class of 2022 Saturday, Daniel Ireland recalled a moment when he walked the very same steps to accept his diploma.

“Thirty years ago I stood where you were, crossing the stage here at GCC with what seemed like a lifetime ahead of me,” said Ireland, president of Rochester Regional Health and keynote speaker. “I was a young nurse, and I had just completed a challenging journey through the rigorous program. I was not an A+ student, but I was dedicated, and through perseverance I proudly graduated.”

Ireland delivered the commencement speech for GCC’s 54th graduation ceremony at the Batavia campus. His challenging journey may have been filled with obstacles, he said, but he worked to overcome them. Ireland not only went on to become a nurse, but head of the Rochester-based healthcare company and in his third decade at United Memorial Medical Center. In 2010 he was promoted to vice president of operations and chief operating officer, in which roles he modernized UMMC’s facilities and oversaw various revitalization projects, including the surgical, front entry and maternity unit areas.

His promotion to president followed in 2013. Ireland was instrumental in leading UMMC through the merger with Rochester Regional Health three years later, and two years ago he rose to the task of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

During those two years, GCC postponed the annual commencement and celebrated an in-person event this year. Classes of 2020 and 2021 joined fellow graduates of this year to take that walk of honor across the stage.

Ireland talked about the choices he made along his career path — from earning a bachelor’s in nursing at Brockport State College after GCC to working as an emergency room floor nurse and being promoted to a leadership position.

It was unforeseen tragedy that shaped his moral code and tested his ability to respond in the face of emergencies, he said.

“One of the first things I learned is that unexpected things happen, and you need to roll with it,” he said. “One early August morning, at about 4 a.m., I received a phone call that no emergency room nurse manager wants to receive. A train had derailed here in Batavia. More than 100 passengers were involved. In healthcare, you plan for these things, but you never fully expect them.”

Some 120 accident victims were transported to the hospital, which had a capacity for about 25 people.  Ireland recalled the fear amongst his staff after the train accident. Due to the perseverance of Ireland and his team, there were no fatalities that day.

“I started out as an orderly, who wanted to get through their Associate’s program and practice nursing,” Ireland said. “I became a leader, with a Master’s Degree, running an emergency room, and leading people through disasters.”

Ireland left the audience with a few key takeaways from his educational and career experiences. He spoke about how fatherhood furthered his mental wellbeing, and how, in that era, he learned how to find safety in failure and lead a life of humility.

He recounted a time in his life when a career opportunity arose outside of the healthcare field, and he was not selected. He reassured the graduates that failure is integral to success.

“When I did not get the job, I was crushed. I had not embraced yet that it is okay to fail,” Ireland said. “But, it was simply fate showing me a path I had not imagined. What I did not know was that a different path lay ahead.”

As Ireland concluded his remarks, three graduating classes prepared to receive what they had worked so hard for: a diploma to recognize their new graduate status. After a two-year hiatus, this ceremony seemed to be — in and of itself — a new chapter for GCC and its students.

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Top photo: Daniel Ireland of Rochester Regional Health gives the keynote address to the Class of 2022 at Genesee Community College Saturday in Batavia. Classmates celebrate their accomplishments and family and friends capture the moment. Photos courtesy of GCC.

Batavia's Class of 2018 had an iconic year of success

By Steve Ognibene

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Batavia High School's 136th commencement, for the Class of 2018, was yesterday at Genesee Community College at the Richard C. Call Arena.

Valedictorian Lauren Leone classified the Class of 2018 as iconic, with a legacy that will linger in every corner of the school.

Her message to her class:

Dare to defy, dare to challenge. Challenge yourself and your counterparts to break with accepted standards and set your own precedent, even if that means challenging your superiors as well. Don’t settle for what has been done, struggle for what should be done. Seek social justice wherever it is absent.

"Take to social media and peaceful protest as avenues to effect change. Make a statement and don’t be afraid to stand behind it. Be passionate. Be activists. Don’t be satisfied until you’ve made a change. So far, the Class of 2018 has been very successful in doing just that.” 

Salutatorian Claire Zickl remarked:

“If there is one similarity shared by every member of my class, is that not one of our paths was a straight line from where we stayed as freshman to where we are today. We all experienced winding road filled with bumps, downed trees, and traffic with plenty of detours."

Commencement speaker Dan Hartnett who will retire after the ceremony after 20 years at BHS said: “always look outside the box. Move in different directions. You never know someone special is waiting out there to meet you."

Many tributes were recognized during the ceremony of student Lorne R. Brudz who had passed during homecoming week last fall. Presentation of awards and diplomas was given by Paul Kesler, principal of BHS, Christopher Dailey, superintendent of schools, and Patrick Burk, president of the Board of Education.

To view or purchase photos go to steveognibenephotography.com or click here.

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Valedictorian Lauren Leone

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Salutatorian Claire Zickl

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Superintendent of Schools Christopher Dailey hands the first diploma to Sophia Alkhouri-Stuart.

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Julie Wasilewski, a counselor​ a Jackson School, hugs daughter Paige before presenting her diploma.

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GCC is fine-tuning logistics for smooth 50th Commencement Ceremony on May 20

By Billie Owens

Press release:

Like a crescendo of a year-long concerto, Genesee Community College is fine-tuning all the logistics of its 50th Commencement Ceremony scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 20, in the new Richard C. Call Arena (RCCA), one of the last events of its multifaceted 50th Anniversary celebration.

More than 200 students are anticipated to walk across the stage after hearing Kristina M. Johnson, Ed.D., the new Chancellor of the State University of New York give the keynote address.

In addition to this being the College's 50th Commencement celebrated in a new facility, other unique aspects of this year's event are the 44 international students that will be graduating this year; 11 of those are from the island nation of Curacao.

GCC is also delighted that 10 students from area high schools will be completing their GCC degree requirements concurrently with their high school diplomas. These 10 graduates participated in the inaugural cohort of the College's STEM Program with the Accelerated College Enrollment (ACE) Office, which started back in 2012 when the students were in seventh grade.

Several other special opportunities are also going to be part of the event.

"Overall, this is a very exciting Commencement Ceremony for the College," GCC President James M. Sunser said. "So many wonderful opportunities are coming to fruition and all in the name and spirit of student success. This ceremony will be one to remember." 

The Commencement ceremony rehearsal will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 18, in the RCCA to prepare soon-to-be graduates for the procession.

Prior to the rehearsal, representatives from Carlson's Studio will be set up in Room H103 of the Call Arena to take individual graduation photographs. Graduates should be in cap and gown, and have payment for their photo package.

Graduates are encouraged to contact Carlson's Studio in advance at (585) 786-2871 or via email at carlsons@rochester.rr.com to inquire about photo packages and pricing. Families can also pre-order flowers and gifts for their graduate through this website https://www.thecommencementgroup.com/Genesee/.

Each GCC graduate received five tickets for guests to attend the ceremony inside the RCCA Fieldhouse as part of their commencement package. There are no additional tickets available.

On Commencement Sunday, guests with tickets can enter the Fieldhouse starting at 12 p.m. for general admission seating. All guests, regardless of age, will require a ticket to enter the Fieldhouse.

Additional seating for guests without tickets is available on a first come, first served basis in the Stuart Steiner Theatre where the ceremony will be broadcast on the Theatre screen. The doors of the Theatre will also open at 12 p.m.

For distant family and friends scattered around the world and unable to enjoy the event in Batavia, the entire Commencement Ceremony will be live-streamed with easy access from GCC's website or at this Web address: https://www.genesee.edu/home/event-streaming/.

Accessible seating accommodations are available in both the RCCA Fieldhouse for ticketed guests and non-ticketed guests in the Stuart Steiner Theatre. For details, please contact GCC's Office of Student Activities (585) 343-0055, ext. 6261, or via email at sa@genesee.edu before Friday, May 18, to make arrangements.

GCC's Child Care Center will be open for all graduates and guests for children from 6 weeks to 5 years of age to allow family and friends to focus on the ceremony. However, guests wishing to bring children to the commencement are required to have a ticket for each child regardless of age.

To sign up for FREE child care services, please contact Student Activities or call (585) 343-0055, ext. 6261, before Friday, May 18. The Child Care Center will open at 12 p.m. on Commencement Day.

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