Marching forward

At the most recent drug court graduation, Dunkirk City Judge Walter Drag said these occasions are the best part of his job. He enjoys seeing people turn their lives around. He enjoys acknowledging that accomplishment.

The format of the ceremony follows a certain pattern. The pledge of allegiance was recited and a moment of silence was observed for our troops.

At the most recent graduation, for the first time a color guard made up of Alex Crowell, Duke Mendema, Alex Williams, Rafael Muller Jr. and Mike Adams from the Dunkirk Senior High School Junior ROTC presented the colors.

Sergeant First Class Frank Torain (retired), one of the instructors in the program, said, “This is a win-win situation. The cadets hear the testimonials (from those who struggle with addiction) and the community sees the positive impact of JROTC.”

Dr. Theodore Steinberg from Temple Beth El gave the invocation.

Drag welcomed those attending and gave an inspirational talk. These vary according to season. Since it was Valentine’s Day, Drag took the audience through the legends connected to St. Valentine.

He then reflected on the love of a “feisty Italian girl” for a Polish boy, something not quite acceptable during the World War II era.

This feisty woman (Drag’s mother) became an Army widow at 24 and went through “rough times.”

Pointing out the need for faith and love, Drag said, “Love is how we care for each other.”

A country music fan, Drag often puts the words to a song that inspires him in the program and refers to the song in his remarks. The song at this graduation was “Faith When I Fall.”

Flowers are important. Drag picks flowers based on the time of year and also speaks of their symbolic meaning. After the ceremony, the graduates take the flowers with them. While he noted that roses are associated with Valentine’s Day, he picked violets. The leaves, he said are heart shaped and remind us of love.

Drug Court Case Management LeeAnn Lazarony presented the graduates to the audience. First names only are used. Each graduate is awarded a certificate of completion. Then each graduate speaks. Some speeches are short; others are longer. All express thanks in some way to those who worked with the graduates.

One participant said, “This program gave me a chance to turn my life around and I am grateful.”

Kevin, a participant who was older than the usual graduate, was also grateful to the program. He said that his life took a detour. “That detour woke me up. I realized how much I was hurting.”

Kevin also cautioned the younger participants to take drug court seriously.

Paul said, “Thanks everyone for believing in me when I didn’t believe in me.”

Pastor Chris Schmiel from Harvest Chapel West in Brocton gave the benediction.

A reception was held in the Mayor’s Conference Room with some of the cookies made by Drag.

Lazarony said, “Judge Drag worries about each and every one of the participants. He had to pick up all the slack since now I am here (in Dunkirk) only two days per week.”

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