NEWBURGH – There was a lot of excitement in the halls of Newburgh Free Academy last Tuesday, as members of the Class of 2013 arrived for their graduation exercise. Clad in caps and gowns, students were met by fellow classmates and teachers prior to processing onto Academy Field.
In total, 662 students graduated as the Class of 2013. That number didn’t include George Whalen.
Whalen, an 85-year-old World War II veteran, also marched with the class. He missed his 1945 graduation because he was deployed three weeks shy of his own graduation. Years later he joined his granddaughter Emily Hovey and walked across the stage to thunderous applause.
"It was very emotional," Whalen said of the experience.
That emotion was felt by Salutatorian Ashley Torres as well, as she reminisced about her days at NFA. "When we think back here to our times at NFA our memories are colored by remarkable people who have made the journey as pleasurable as it has been. Friends, teachers, parents, the group of seniors before me is the distinct product of the contribution of these numerous individuals."
Torres spoke about friends she made 13 years earlier in kindergarten. "Some friends have come and gone, others have endured it all." Each left a mark on her.
"Today we say goodbye to extraordinary friends, and promise to stalk them on Facebook," she said.
Torres, who will be attending the US Air Force Academy, said it will be sad to leave NFA. "We must think of the road ahead. Whether it is college, the military or the work force, we will always remember the friends, teachers and our parents, whose marks left on us, will last even after we move on."
Valedictorian Alexandra Morehead spoke about her favorite superhero, Batman. She said with some hard work, anyone can be a hero. "Bruce Wayne built himself into the person he wanted to become: Batman."
Morehead noted that Bruce Wayne didn’t have any super powers, but that it was instead his work ethic that made him extraordinary.
Her advice for the Class of 2013: keep their eyes open. "Passion and ideas are all around you. All you have to do is look."
She closed by reminding her fellow graduates, "It is not who you are, but what you do that defines you."