Sweet music marks transition for WCS graduates

Longtime teacher Mahony says good-bye

June 23, 2011

By Adam White
Observer staff
Williston Central School physical education teacher Jennifer Oakes presents the class of 2011. More than 130 eighth-graders graduated from WCS on June 16. (Observer photo by Kayla Walters)

This year’s eighth-grade class at Williston Central School graduated on a high note last week, as one student celebrated with a ceremonial guitar solo and a longtime teacher retired to spend more time playing her violin.

Upward of 500 people packed the WCS gymnasium on June 16 for this year’s graduation ceremony, during which 133 students marked their transition from eighth grade to high school along with teachers and faculty members, relatives and friends.

The occasion was particularly bittersweet for the 77 students who had attended school within the Williston district since kindergarten.

“There is no high school in Williston, so once they graduate from eighth grade they are leaving the district,” said Moe Provost of Derby, who came to watch his grandson, Henri, graduate. “He’s the oldest of nine grandchildren, so we’re going to be doing this a lot.”
WCS principal Jacqueline Parks gave a welcome address in which she praised this year’s eighth-graders for being “good people, good citizens (and) good learners.”

“They have matured, and they are ready to tackle their lifelong journey in education,” Parks said, before turning to face the students who were seated behind her. “Take your goodness and become a role model for others.”

Leah Sargent and Meghan O’Day then gave addresses on behalf of the Class of 2011. Sargent – one of those 77 students who started at Williston in kindergarten – pointed out that she had been at the school “for almost half of (her) life.”

“Even though the school has changed, one thing has stayed the same: the joyful atmosphere,” Sargent said.

O’Day reflected on the worries that young students face at a new school, and how overcoming those challenges helps shape them as people.

“High school won’t even start for a few months … that gives us time to celebrate this huge accomplishment – before it is, once again, time to worry,” O’Day said.

Fellow students Sarah Bergkvist and Renee Benoit dedicated the 2011 school yearbook to Carmen Portelli, who left WCS in April to take a job at an area veterinary clinic.  Portelli worked at the school since 2006 as a para-educator, and in 2007 moved to the school’s front office receptionist position and “did an outstanding job” in the words of Parks.
“[Portelli] was known for her cheery, positive attitude and had very strong relationships with students and faculty,” Parks said.

Also saying goodbye to WCS were guidance counselor Beth Sumner and Susan Mahony, who retired after 25 years as a classroom teacher at the school. Mahony taught grades four though eight in a variety of multi-age teams, and taught all subjects while specializing in language arts, math and social studies. She said she hopes to spend her retirement becoming more involved with music and playing the violin.

“I feel very lucky to have taught in such a positive and forward-looking school,” Mahony said. “I am proud to have been in a place that integrates the arts and educates the whole child. A teaching career offers steady opportunities for your own growth and exploration; it is very enriching. It is a career worth doing.”

WCS eighth-grader Dustin Peters marked the midway point of the graduation ceremony by playing an original, instrumental song on his Epiphone SG electric guitar, against a backdrop of vocal encouragement from his classmates.

The second half of the ceremony saw numerous awards handed out to graduating students. The Gordon Jones Memorial Award went to Chris Mallow, while Alec Collin took home the Allen S. Myers Spirit of Williston Award. The Al Myers Spirit of History Award was bestowed upon Amari Boyd, Mallow, Mikaela Rather, Greg Goldman and Shea Ingham.