Pierson Graduates Look to the Future
By Mahreen Khan; photography by Michael Heller
The Pierson High School class of 2017 gathered for the final time in their high school careers on Saturday, June 24 for commencement. Eager friends, siblings, parents and faculty began filtering down Pierson Hill, trickling in as the 5 p.m. ceremonial start neared.
At a summery 84º, the 53 graduates walked the aisle amidst the three sections of seats. Spectators occupied almost all the assigned seats, their faces beaming with joy and their sights set on the present moment and all that the present moment means for the future. Meanwhile, the classic high school building towered just ahead, as an American flag waved along, with what can only be characterized as a symbol of hope and preservation.
Opening festivities began promptly, with the graduating class, Pierson band members and the Sag Harbor Community Band leading a processional. The “Pomp and Circumstance” processional was followed by senior class president Isabel Peters’ recital of the Pledge of Allegiance, and senior chorus members’ subsequent performance of the National Anthem.
Senior Alexander Kamper made the necessary introductions, first bringing to stage salutatorian Ella Parker. Ms. Parker, dressed in her white cap and gown, began her speech with a quote by Texas politician Jim Hightower.
“There’s nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and dead armadillos,” she recited. Honing in on the importance of avoiding and overcoming an apathetic mentality, Ms. Parker spoke to those of her colleagues who will soon be entering college, as well as those who may choose alternate paths. She urged them each to interpret Hightower’s quote in their own way, adapting it to their unique realities.
“Lingering in a mindset of indifference is an impediment to personal growth, especially at this stage of our lives,” Ms. Parker said. She admitted her own such flaws, suggesting that she is at times indirect and arguably apathetic. She described her early years as a strict rule-follower, as someone who was always afraid to go against the grain.
“I learned that standing up for what you believe in, isn’t always so clearly defined,” she said. Through her own exploration of personal growth, Ms. Parker said she learned that the “middle of the road is often the most comfortable place to linger.” In an effort to avoid creating a commotion, young adults tend to avoid confrontation and avoid taking a stance, or they turn to ignorance and prejudice, Ms. Parker said. She said that instead, the graduates should seize every opportunity that comes their way. “Stand with conviction and purpose and hope that others can follow what you’ve established,” she said.
Following Parker’s speech, was valedictorian Eve Bishop.
“When I sat down to right this, I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to take,” Ms. Bishop said. “Did I want to ruminate on the past, or cast my hopes for the future?” Ms. Bishop decided to immerse herself and her audience in a bit of both, speaking on the journeys she and her peers have embarked upon in their four years, and on all that the surrounding town has offered them. She spoke of Sag Harbor’s “great natural beauty,” and the town’s vast opportunities for artistic exploration and indulgence. “At school, there was a constant encouragement of free flowing and artistic thought,” she said. She applauded these opportunities, urging her colleagues against underestimating “the power of living an imaginative, creative life.”
Ms. Bishop then took the conversation even further into the future, arguing that she doesn’t believe numbers should serve as identifiers of talent or ability. “I’m not convinced,” she said. “Our grades, our ranks, our SAT scores say very little about us.” Instead, she said it is the students’ character, ambition and imagination that will influence the ability to which they succeed. She suggested that her peers remain open to new possibilities and opportunities.
Both Ms. Parker and Ms. Bishop were IB Diploma candidates, and each capped their senior years with several prestigious awards that were distributed on graduation day. Over 20 students joined them in accepting awards and scholarships from local clubs, foundations and organizations.
CNN Tonight anchor, Don Lemon, who served as the commencement speaker, emerged from his seat on the rightmost side of the stage at roughly 5:40 p.m. He began by kicking off a discussion about freedom of expression, tying it to the greater need for diversity. “Diversity is extremely important to me, not only personally and professionally,” he said. He cited his own experiences as a gay African American, and spoke of the college protests that the graduates should expect, and embrace, in order to maintain the sanctity of this sacred freedom.
He also spoke on how students should remain curious and nonjudgmental, and on the importance of engaging in open discussion. Along those lines, he commented on the government’s limitations of the press and the public. “We cannot just allow to be said what we love,” he said. “We must also allow to be said what we hate.” He repeated this statement to ensure that his message had been heard, and gave students poignant advice, telling them that the best thing they can do is, “just relax” – but also stay alert and involved.
Ending his speech, Mr. Lemon quoted the infamous Forrest Gump in saying, “life is like a box of chocolates. You’re never know what you’re gonna get.”
The ceremonial festivities progressed from there, with students receiving their diplomas and eventually departing center stage. They ran up Pierson Hill, crowded around the flagpole area and threw their caps up in unison.
The Pierson High School Class of 2017 ended their legacy, with a great deal to be left remembered.