DHS fist-bumps their way across the stage

Instead of the traditional handshake, fist bumps were given as students received their high school diploma. As the Class of 2014 walked across the stage at King Concert Hall Saturday morning, Dunkirk High School Principal Stephen O’Brien gave each student a fist bump – something he would do to welcome students every day to school.

Carol Bleck, who served as mistress of ceremonies, encouraged parents to let their children go off to college and experience the world; she also told students to call home once in a while to let families know they were doing OK. She told parents to reminiscence about their child’s journey through school.

“Wasn’t it just yesterday they were heading off to kindergarten with their Disney princess backpack or superhero backpack or lunch box? Remember when you wanted to go with them just to make sure they were OK?” Bleck said.

Superintendent Gary Cerne reflected back to Sept. 4 when the graduates first walked in to high school as seniors. He remembered sitting in the back of the auditorium as O’Brien challenged students to work hard throughout the year to graduate on time. Cerne told students no matter what path they choose in life they need to work hard and set goals. Students also need to accept the challenges, be grateful and thankful, in addition to being tolerant.

“Your journey to get here has not always been an easy one. You’ve overcome obstacles. You’ve taken on challenges. You preserved. When setbacks came your way, you found a way to win. You never gave up and you should be very proud of your accomplishments. Please know that I am very proud of you,” Cerne said.

Salutatorian Taylor Tilley credited friends, family, classmates and teachers for all that the graduates have accomplished. Over the course of high school, the students as a class have grown and learned together. Tilley said everything the class has been through over the past four years has led up to graduation. She encouraged students to follow their dreams, but never forget where they came from.

Raymond Tarnowski, valedictorian, said many times the Dunkirk school community gets a bad reputation and is often criticized. The naysayers, he said, are not “hard lookers” and often fail to realize the amount of talent and potential the district has.

“… I know many of you are looking forward to leaving Dunkirk but we truly are a good group of young adults who are lucky enough to have attended DHS,” said Tarnowski. “So let’s go out there and be proud to say that we graduated as Dunkirk Marauders and let’s show the world we are not what many people portray us.”

In closing his speech, Tarnowski told the students they had to do two things before leaving commencement: take a look around at each other for this may be the last time they see each other and to say, “Happy 18th birthday” to fellow graduate Billy Bradley.

O’Brien gave an example of a student who came to him earlier in the year and wanted to drop out of school due to being unable to pass the English language arts Regents exam. O’Brien made an agreement with the student to work hard and retake the exam. The student did pass the exam and was able to graduate with his classmates. O’Brien encouraged the students to “grin it out” when faced with a challenge.

Senior Class Co-Presidents Duke Medema and Connor Aitcheson gave the graduates a fortune telling. The pair said they were certified online as fortune tellers prior to graduation and told the graduating class their fortunes. In the future, the class will include various actors starring in “yet another Drew Carey improv show” and an upcoming Terminator movie; the next karate kid; a one-man offensive line for the Buffalo Bills; a Buffalo Sabres zamboni driver; a rapper; and even 2040 presidential candidates. Medema added he is looking forward to serving with all those will be entering the military and thanked them for their service.

“Finally 80 years from now, Mr. O’Brien will still be principal of Dunkirk High School. At this point he will have purchased a facial recognition robot to fist bump every student,” Medema said.

Bleck acknowledged the accomplishments of the graduating class sitting before her. She told the students that their life will begin at the end of each graduate’s comfort zone and encouraged them to do what they love. She told the students to “shoot for the stars.”

“With the talent that this class possesses, we know the future is bright and I’m not a certified fortune teller,” she said.

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