Dozens of members of the Class of 2023 at Gowanda High strode to their place of honor – front and center at Hillis Field – for the district’s 139th commencement held Friday, June 23, 2023.
Hundreds of loved ones and community members crowded the bleachers as graduates clad in blue caps and gowns dotted the green lawn on a mild and overcast summer evening.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance led by class secretary Josalyn Degenfelder and a welcome from Principal Rebekah Moraites, who also offered thanks to everyone involved with facilitating the ceremony. Congratulatory remarks were made by Dr. Robert B. Anderson, superintendent of schools, before Board of Education member Mr. John Waterman Jr., a graduate of the Class of 1992 at GHS, spoke on behalf of the Seneca Nation of Indians. Roughly one third of the district’s students are Native American.
Waterman began by stating how proud he was of the Class of 2023 for persevering through many obstacles, not the least of which was the COVID-19 pandemic, which occurred during their freshman year.
“There were so many challenges and changes, but you didn’t let them stop you,” said Waterman. “Instead you fought through them, overcame them and finished the job.”
Salutatorian Lani Farley, who plans to major in pre-medicine/biology at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Valedictorian Logan Forthman, who plans to major in computer science at Rochester Institute of Technology, then addressed the audience.
Farley asked her classmates to reflect on their common history before embarking on separate journeys into adulthood.
“It is crazy to think that we took our first steps into high school almost 1400 days ago and that was just the very beginning of our story. Time really does fly when we’re least expecting it.”
She said that the next chapter of their lives is up for the graduates to decide.
“Don’t try to get caught up in the past, instead show up and make the effort for your future,” Farley said. “We have the world at our fingertips, and it may seem scary at first but I wholeheartedly believe that this class can make it through anything.”
Forthman attributed some of his personal success to his fellow seniors, crediting them with helping him enhance his social skills over the years and took time to single out faculty and staff who taught them invaluable lessons.
“Even if we’re done with school, and even if you’re not going to college, it’s always important to go into something with an open mind,” said Forthman. “Because you never know – maybe something you thought you’d hate turns out to be really nice.”
Keynote speaker Zachary Steever (Class of 2012) is the senior qualitative analyst for the Philadelphia Eagles. He holds bachelor’s master’s and doctorate degrees from University at Buffalo.
Steever’s family has deep roots in the district – his grandmother and parents both taught at GCS – and he shared his excitement at “coming home.”
“I wish I could tell you that all the hard work was over once I was hired by the Eagles, but the reality is that everyone in an NFL front office has to earn the right to be there every day through the work they put forward. And that same thing is true for every profession represented in the crowd here today — past, present, and future.”
Steever emphasized hard work, patience, and boldness in achieving one’s dreams and goals.
“I hope that each of you leaves here today in pursuit of your passion. I hope you work earnestly, and act boldly, and you find something that you can’t wait to do every day; something where you feel excited to earn your place, even after you’ve given it your all and the confetti is still falling for the wrong team,” said Steever. “Because a life spent doing what you love is the greatest success anyone could hope for”
Principal Moraites then declared all 72 members of the Class of 2023 have met or exceeded the requirements set by the State of New York and the BOE for earning a high school diploma.
Following the presentation of diplomas, the ceremony concluded with the traditional turning of the tassels from left to right, led by class treasurer Madison Luder.
Afterward, the graduates and their loved ones lingered on the field and posed for snapshots to cap off the celebration.