HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. -- A bright, setting sun oversaw the graduating class of 2014 at Hoosick Falls Central School Friday as they said farewell with both laughter and tears to their high school careers and hello to the new challenges of college and, for some, the military.
Graduate Carsen Williams spoke of Isabel McGuire, who taught math at Hoosick Falls Central High School since 1995 and died of cancer in March.
"Unfortunately, earlier this year, we lost a very special person," said Williams. "Ms. McGuire was a full-time math teacher both in and out of the classroom. She was really dedicated to all her students and loved to teach."
As graduates got up to deliver flowers to their family members in attendance, each laid a pink flower aside. Those were taken by Williams to McGuire's family, who sat in attendance.
"Despite her illness, she still came to school and bravely soldiered on," said Williams. "She loved all of us, and supported us students in every way possible."
In February, Hoosick Falls Central High School lost a former student, 21-year-old Stephen Colvin, to a skiing accident. Valedictorian Katelyn Harrison said his loss, and that of McGuire's, brought the class together and taught them resiliency.
"Following the deaths of a beloved friend and a well-respected teacher this year, we stood strong together," said Harrison. "Who can forget the huge turnouts for both Steve's and Ms. McGuire's funerals? We must have exceeded the fire code on the number of people you can hold in one place because you couldn't even breathe in there."
Most of the ceremony was not somber, but joyful and filled with music.
Chorus seniors sang "Thank you for the Music," by ABBA. The symphony band played a selection from Pirates of the Caribbean, and School Board member David Sutton, a trained singer, rendered God Bless America.
"And all of this knowledge will no doubt be valuable as we go forward in life, but I think that the most important thing we have learned over the last four years is not just how, as a community, to hold one another up in times of tragedy and sadness, but also to build each other up in times of happiness and excitement," said Harrison.
Zoey Haar joked that her brother refers to her salutatorian title as, "first loser," and went on to talk about her first days at Hoosick Central having come from a "Montessori-like" school were lonely until Ms. Malossi told Harrison to go sit with her.
"It didn't take long for Katelyn and I to grow close," said Haar. "One day as we were sitting on the swings we discussed a test we had recently taken not long ago. The test had been administered the first week, a new experience for me, and when it was handed back there were two 100s in the class. One belonged to Katelyn Harrison, of course, and the other was mine, which was some freaky foreshadowing if you ask me, but that's not my point."
Her point was that Harrison had told her mother about the two test scores, and her mother said Harrison should squash Haar "like a bug."
"Thanks, Mrs. H," Haar said in her speech. "Now the point I'm trying to make is not that Katelyn is a terrifying person who you should all revere on the very good chance that she becomes an unstoppable dictator, even if that is the case. The point I'm trying to make is that this is not a story that could happen anywhere but Hoosick Falls."
She said what defines the class of 2014 best is how its members are free to be who they are and are not divided into groups like "jocks" and "nerds."
"...there's no rules for what you can and can't be," she said.
Stephen Johnson, a former principal at Hoosick Falls Elementary School, was the guest speaker, and he followed up on Harrison and Haar's theme of friendship by saying one of his best friends to this day is one he met in high school.
Johnson said social media has made keeping those relationships alive easier, and graduates should take advantage.
"It may sound counter-intuitive, but you are the happiest when you comfort someone else," Johnson said, adding that happiness stems mainly from relationships with people and so good connections should be cultivated.
"Remember your youth, it's what has made you," he said. "It's what has gotten you here."
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.