26 Jun

In the News: Schenectady Grads Ready to Pursue Dreams

From the Schenectady Gazette
June 26, 2015
By Kathleen Moore

SCHENECTADY — The next time members of the class of 2015 make headlines, it might be for finding a pharaoh at an archeological dig. Or for returning home to police Hamilton Hill. Or for playing professional soccer. 

The future seems limitless, Schenectady High School graduates said as they eagerly awaited their diplomas at Proctors Friday. 

Diamond Lukesic, 18, is heading to Schenectady County Community College for two years, then transferring to the College of Charleston. She’s going to major in archaeology. 

“I love ancient history,” she said. “I want to find a lost pharaoh in Egypt.” 

Classmate Ravendra Boodram, 18, wants to head back home after college.

 “I want to be a police officer and clean up my neighborhood,” he said. He’s a resident of the Hamilton Hill neighborhood. 

He’s going to Schenectady County Community College, majoring in criminal justice. In two years, he hopes to be applying to the Schenectady Police Department.

 Classmate Nisa Cortes, 17, might be flying to Europe. 

Cortes will play soccer at Keystone College in Pennsylvania — after she finishes playing on her travel team next month. 

“I have a game this weekend,” she said. “I liked doing sports and my schoolwork at the same time. I learned to balance it.” 

When soccer ends, she’ll work at SCORE, a youth academic camp in Central Park, “to make some kind of money” before soccer practice starts at Keystone. 

She will major in sports recreation management, but she’s hoping to keep playing. Her dream is to play professionally, probably overseas. 

Others have simpler dreams. 

Santos Claudio, 18, just wants a job with decent pay. 

“Wealthy enough to live in a house,” he said. “I live in an apartment. A house is your own home. You can do whatever you want with it.” 

Christina Castro, 18, is looking for a job in a salon. She took VOTEC classes in cosmetology and will be attending The Center for Natural Wellness School of Massage Therapy in Albany this fall.

Several other students are joining the military so they can pay for college. 

“It’s helping my mom out with college so she won’t have to pay as much,” said Ditaye Douglas, 18, who is enlisting in the Marine Corps. He goes to boot camp on July 6. 

Armani Ellis, 18, is joining the Navy. His uncle, Kenneth Madison, couldn’t be prouder. 

“Like me and my father,” he said. “He’s got it right.” 

When Ellis was about 10, his family began to emphasize the importance of doing well in school. 

“He was a little bored so we started to drill that in,” Madison said. “We told him how to grow up and be a man, how education is his most important asset.” 

Going beyond
Graduation was a rollicking affair, beginning with a speech worthy of spirit week from Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam. 

He led the class of 2015 in a series of cheers, getting them to recognize the people who helped them succeed and the institution of public education. 

Then valedictorian Samantha Suriano brought three seniors on stage to be her “emotional translators” for her speech. 

Soon students were gasping with laughter. 

“Cinderella didn’t want to be a servant, so she became a princess,” Suriano said, trying to encourage the class to take charge of their lives. 

But, reading from her script, one of her “translators” called out, “That’s right, ladies. She married a rich dude.” 

But it was the keynote speaker who knocked it out of the park. 

Antonio Civitella, president and CEO of Transfinder, began by showing the students his Schenectady socks. 

He graduated from school in Schenectady, back when there were two high schools. His was Mont Pleasant; the other was Linton. Now there’s just Schenectady High School. 

“It would be like Coke and Pepsi or McDonald’s and Burger King merging,” he said, to laughs from the crowd. 

He told them about his childhood. As an immigrant from Italy, he had to repeat third grade when he arrived. He was crushed. But he worked hard, and at the end of the year, his teacher bumped him up to fifth grade. 

The lesson? “Go beyond what is asked of you,” he said. 

He led them to shout thank you to their parents, and told them not to judge people by their education or their work. 

His father didn’t graduate from high school but was “the toughest negotiator I knew,” he said, to widespread applause. 

And the man worked many odd jobs that people thought were “beneath him,” Civitella added. “But in my book he was a success.” 

He praised the class for many specific things members had done — details he got when he interviewed the class officers. He invited them to his office to prepare for his speech, he said. 

Among the nuggets he learned: the Hall of Springs management said Schenectady was the best behaved school of all the schools who celebrated the prom there this year. 

That got a big cheer. 

Parting words
But the biggest of all was reserved, as always, for the school board president. 

“It’s never lost on me that I’m the last speaker between you and your diplomas,” said President Cathy Lewis. 

She asked the graduates to inspire younger students — siblings, cousins, friends — to push through and graduate. 

“You’ll have more opportunities than you think to influence other people,” she said. “Start thinking of yourself as someone who has talents and skills. . . . We need everything you can bring.”