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Pleasant Valley valedictorian: ‘Start living life’

Pleasant Valley High School held its graduation Friday night at the stadium for its 361 seniors in the Class of 2023. The evening started out overcast with a few sprinkles, but soon rays of light broke through the clouds and provided a serene backdrop for the graduation ceremony.

The graduates paraded out to the field two-by-two as “Pomp and Circumstance” played. The boys in royal blue robes on the left side, and the girls in white robes on the right.

The ceremony opened with the high school’s co-principals welcoming the graduates and their friends and families.

“It’s such an honor to be here tonight and celebrate all of these accomplishments,” said Co-Principal Jonathan Ayre, who introduced Julia Gower, the salutatorian to give her speech. A little while later, Co-Principal Brian Boylan introduced the valedictorian - Kassidy Shupp.

Gower said, “To me, graduation always seemed like an occasion always slightly out of reach. In fact, it feels surreal even now, and I am truly blessed to even be able to stand up here today.”

She said that for the last four years, she has been striving to do her very best on her school work and sometimes missed out on being with friends.

“I was always waiting in anticipation of the future, so I stopped living in the present,” Gower said. “We need to stop waiting for life to happen and just start living it.”

She encouraged her classmates to “dance in the rain,” “feel the rhythm with every beat” of music playing, “and embrace the orange glow on your face” from a sunset.

Gower said she knows some of her classmates are a little scared with what is to come in the future; she said she is too. Then she referenced a quote by Erin Hanson that “poses the question, ‘What if I fall?’ and answers it with ‘Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?’ So take that leap of faith and start writing your next chapter Class of 2023.”

Class President Jaclyn James stepped forward next and addressed her peers. James said, “Each and every one of us have made choices, decisions and sacrifices which has influenced our education, but have also helped us gain friendships, interests and hobbies to grow and achieve the knowledge that allows us to receive our diplomas tonight. This is a big deal. This is a big night. One we will never forget.”

Valedictorian Kassidy Shupp admitted that she didn’t know what to write about for her speech. She went to Google to try to find some inspirational quotes, but she was still at a loss to find the words to sum up all her class had overcome. After all, they were new high school students, just freshman when the pandemic hit in 2020. She said she realized she wasn’t going to find the right quote, because it hadn’t been created yet.

“There it was - the spark of tonight’s speech,” Shupp said. “Every choice you make leads to the next choice, which leads to the next, and I know it’s hard to know which path to take. The best part is you now have the freedom of choice - the ability to create your own path. Yes, the scary news is you’re on your own now. The cool news is you’re on your own now.”

Pleasant Valley valedictorian Kassidy Shupp speaks at the graduation ceremony in the stadium Friday night. AMY LEAP/TIMES NEWS
Pleasant Valley students march into the stadium for commencement ceremonies. KRISTINE PORTER/TIMES NEWS