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STAFF PHOTO/ROBERT BAKER Valedictorian Hannah Decker leads a silly string campaign as Superintendent Ken Cuomo exits the stage after conferring all diplomas.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Departing from the stage after the ceremony are Liam Ruppert, left, and Jarrett Tyler who is headed to the U.S. Navy.

Elk Lake High School sent 76 graduates out into the world Saturday morning, and armed them with tons of advice and remembrances.

Class president Dana Nunemacher took her peers on a journey of 13 years and paused to remember fellow second grader Garrett Stark who tragically passed away 10 years ago.

There were some upbeat times, too.

Nunemacher said, “Take your uniqueness into the ‘real world’ and never look back. Find what makes your heart beat faster. If what you are doing doesn’t make you feel that way, find what does.”

It was a thought echoed by valedictorian Hannah Decker who started to apologize for graduating in a small class numbering in the seventies.

Although it didn’t meet the textbook definition, Decker noted, “I’d say the senior class of Elk Lake is a perfect example of what a family is supposed to be.”

She added, “We may not all be the closest of friends, but they have all helped me learn the most important lessons in life.”

Decker said,”The world is yours for the taking and know that you will always have a family to celebrate with in your times of triumph, to turn to in your time of need, and to call in your times of ‘hey, I just missed you.’”

Salutatorian Dylan Fernald thanked a passel of his teachers for challenging him, and talked of lessons others may have taken for granted.

And then he reached into his own memory bank, remembering when younger about being asked what we wanted to be when we grew up.

“How many would answer with the word, ‘average?’” Fernald asked. “I feel we should all strive to be excellent... we can’t let our younger selves down after all... whatever we do from now, let’s try to impress the kid that’s still inside all of us.”

Acting Principal John Warnero told the audience that 36 - not quite half of the class - would be going on to a 4-year college, 12 would be going to a 2-year-program or technical training, 25 would be entering the workforce, and two would be entering the nation’s military.

After acknowledging and thanking the veterans in the audience for their service, Warnero noted that two of the graduates - Nathaniel Preston to the Air Force and Jarrett Tyler to the Navy - would each be going into the service and “helping to protect our great country.”

Warnero introduced the teacher selected by the class as the one they wished to give the commencement address: Jeff Horvath, whom for 30 years has been teaching language arts at the Dimock school, but is departing with this class to make way for retirement.

Horvath said he wanted to dedicate his address to two amazing educators - Greg Chew and Kim Dymond - “who will be forever missed but never forgotten.”

He also wanted the class to know “that it has been an honor to know and to teach each of you.”

He reached for humanity’s best by quoting from Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass,’ the essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson and poet John Donne, and acknowledged one of his heroes, the late Bobby Kennedy, once said, “Each time an individual stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”

So, “Become involved,” Horvath pleaded. “Remember a thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one good deed.”

But just in case you needed something to ponder, he said to consider this also from Whitman: “Love the earth and the animals, reject riches, give alms to those in need, stand up for the unfortunate, devote your labor to others, argue not concerning god, have patience, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very life shall become a great poem.”

With that Superintendent Ken Cuomo presented the senior class to school board vice president Arden Tewksbury, and they both gave some fitting remarks before conferring diplomas.