A musical, memorable graduation in Tupper Lake

Nolan Savage hugs family while his father, Chris, looks on at the Tupper Lake High School graduation on Thursday. Chris said his son has been looking forward to graduation a lot, so he wasn’t surprised when his whole family was in tears after the ceremony. “He (Nolan) is not one to show a lot of emotion, so in big moments like that, it sort of just all comes,” Chris said later. “He’s all heart.” Nolan is apparently brainy too, as he plans to study engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology in the fall. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

TUPPER LAKE — At the Tupper Lake High School on Thursday, seniors sang, laughed, cried and shared memories of their time growing up together.

The ceremony was spotted with numerous music references and performances, and a lot of stories of the odd things that happen in high school.

TLCSD Superintendent Russ Bartlett said this class of 45 students is one of the most memorable he’s had. He described greeting them in the morning in a light-hearted roast of the senior class. Some were not morning people, some had strange footwear every day, others were consistently late, but he said he loved them all and was proud of their accomplishments.

Senior Emileigh Smith said they all overcame obstacles to get there. The coronavirus pandemic took up a large portion of their time in high school, but when sports and extracurricular activities returned this year, she said Tupper Lake students got right back in the swing of things.

The Red and Black Players returned to the stage with “Beauty and the Beast.” The senior volleyball players brought their team to sectionals, boys varsity basketball got to Section X semifinals, the track squad went to sectionals and one senior went to states twice, and the baseball team became Section X champions.

Valedictorian Emma Robillard found advice for her fellow classmates all around town — her teachers, her family and her friends.

She said to care for others like Laurie Mitchell, her favorite teacher; to find friends like Ava Cuttaia, who graduated two years ago; to love family like her “Noni and Pa” love her; to be loud like her little sister and roommate Lyla; to “laugh like Lukie,” her younger brother; to have faith like her mother’s in hard times; and to work hard and have a sense of humor, like her father “Markie.”

Salutatorian Libby Gillis started her speech with a shoutout to her grandmother, who was celebrating her 90th birthday that day.

Gillis said she remembers learning in elementary school that she would graduate in 2022 — it seemed impossibly far away then. She thought it would be a year of robots and self-driving cars, not of a global pandemic.

“I was originally going to say that you guys in the crowd should be glad that you aren’t listening to me on your car radios right now, but now that we’re in the sweaty gym, I’ll leave that up to interpretation,” Gillis said to laughs and groans from the crowd sweating in the gymnasium.

Of course, no modern Tupper Lake graduation would be complete without an allusion to the “ranch era.” But this year, Gillis also introduced the “yo-yo situation.”

“We had the whole yo-yo situation,” she said. “Then we didn’t have the whole yo-you situation.”

Gillis compiled a video with advice from the leaders students looked up to every day at school — teachers, staff and administrators.

“Leave every item and every person you encounter better than you found them” one teacher said.

Another teacher, tongue in cheek, urged students to sign up for every credit card they can in college to get free t-shirts and cut down on laundry costs.

Some of the advice was funny — one told students to wake up every day with the energy of Aiden Dattoma, who was seen being very energetic.

Bartlett closed out the video by quoting some sage advice he lifted from the recent viral song on TikTok — “Jiggle Jiggle” by BBC documentarian Louis Theroux.

“My money don’t jiggle, jiggle, it folds,” Bartlett said onscreen, to screams and laughs from the graduates.

He pointed out that most graduates this year were born in the year 2004. That’s the same year Mountain Dew Baja Blast was released, the Nintendo DS and iPod Mini were on shelves and the social media monolith “The Facebook” first became active.

Now, he said, this era of high school graduates don’t even use Facebook.

Seniors Lowden Pratt, Emileigh Smith, Morgan Dewyea, Hailey Bissonette, Trista Strader-Moore, Jenna Switzer and Aiden Dattoma performed the class song, “I Lived” by OneRepublic.

High School Principal Cynthia Lauzon said she was glad the music department was back performing at graduation. Music is important, she said, and gave some advice from a song herself, reading out updated lyrics to Baz Luhrmann’s famous graduation song “Everybody’s Free.” In her version, she spoke about Snapchats and TikToks instead of photos.

“Listen to the music,” Lauzon said, “and just be.”

Guidance Counselor Lisa Gillis was given the Outstanding Educator Award.

This year’s guest speaker was a former Spanish teacher at Tupper Lake High School. Seniors Lowden Pratt and Ruby LaDue said she’s been “dearly missed” there for her excellent storytelling, her sense of humor and her Spanish-only rule in class, which helped make them proficient in the language they were learning.

MJ Melgar lives in Boquete, Panama now, but returned to give Tupper Lake seniors some worldly knowledge.

She said fear — not the one for self-preservation, but the one that holds people back — is a seed planted in the mind, which, if it grows, can be paralyzing and can morph into a belief or even a truth.

But Melgar said, to her, fear is an acronym — False Evidence Appearing Real.

Fear is within control, she said, and if it can be changed, one’s reality can be changed.

“You created that fear, which also means you also choose to manage it,” Melgar said.

She said she hasn’t let fear hold her back, and has enjoyed life because of that — whether it is traveling the world, falling in love with a bullfighter, ziplining high above the mountains or moving to a foreign country to enjoy a “second childhood.”

“You can’t go back and make a brand new start, but anyone can start from now and make a brand-new ending,” Melgar said.

Courage, she said, is not the elimination of fear, but persevering despite it.

Melgar told students their self-worth is never determined by others, and to extend that worth to others and treat them well. She said laughter has gotten her through hard times. And she left them with some advice on what to do when they hear music.

“I hope you dance,” she said.

London Tyo, the senior who gave the closing remarks, said high school went by in a flash and moments after moving her graduation cap tassel from the right to the left, she said the end of an era in their lives was just the beginning for the rest of them.

Tyo said the memories she made in the past four years will stay with her forever.

“It’s been a pleasure growing up with you,” she said.


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