History teacher Joe Thill gives a speech during the Saranac Lake High School commencement June 22 at the Saranac Lake Civic Center.
Graduation advice came from familiar faces at the Saranac Lake High School commencement Friday, June 22 in the Civic Center.
In all, there were 125 graduates and hundreds of family members packed on the ice rink and in the stands, with industrial fans humming in the back door trying to give relief from the heat and humidity.
After a short introduction by Superintendent Gerald Goldman, high school history teacher and guest speaker Joe Thill said he would give anyone $20 for a portable fan or $5 for a cold compress. Then he drew on history for advice to the seniors.
“The unchallenged life is not worth living,” Thill said, revealing that this theme is a variation of the teachings of ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
The message was clear. Live a full life of experience, ask questions and ponder your existence; otherwise, you are wasting your life. Challenge yourself.
“If it’s human nature to take the path of least resistance, then I say don’t,” Thill said. “Put yourself to the test. Push yourself to the limit. Be the best you can be. Did I miss any clichés? … By doing this, your life will not be wasted. Quite the contrary; it will be fulfilling and complete, and you will be happier.”
Thill explained that his early years in college were less than noteworthy, academically.
“It took me failing the geology class to shock me to my senses,” Thill said. “I mean, who fails geology? It’s rocks. That’s when I said to myself, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’”
Thill took a semester off, worked in a lumber yard, found his motivation and changed his major to history, a subject he loves and has true passion for.
“Then I did something I hadn’t done in three years,” Thill said. “I challenged myself.”
He decided to improve his grades and soon went from being a near-dropout to a dean’s list student.
“I got my degree and I did what most history majors do, and I decided on a job in a field that has absolutely nothing to do with history,” he said.
Thill worked for eight years for an importer, bringing goods into the U.S. from Canada, eventually ending up in Champlain and meeting his future wife, Nathalie.
“One of the reasons I love my wife is that she, too, believes that an unchallenged life is an unhappy one,” Thill said, “which is why 12 years ago she asked me, ‘Why are you working in a job that makes you miserable? Get out of Champlain. Why don’t you do something that makes you happy, something that you actually enjoy? Why don’t you teach history?’ A new challenge.”
Thill left a good-paying, private-sector job to teach.
“I did this for my own happiness,” he said. “I soon discovered the best school district in the area, moved to that district, and now I’m working and raising my kids here in Saranac Lake ... Rising to the challenge, meeting the challenge, that’s what makes life worth living.”
The valedictorian for the Class of 2012 is Summer Schneider, the daughter of Fred and Robin Schneider. She plans to attend Syracuse University, majoring in photographic illustration.
While working on her commencement speech, Schneider was inspired while listening to the Smash Mouth song, “All Star,” on her iPod.
“As the second verse began and I was about to sing, ‘Well the years start coming, and they don’t stop coming,’ I stopped myself,” Schneider said. “I finally realized what the lyrics meant. All these years, and there’s a life lesson in a Smash Mouth song and nobody knew it … We can’t let our lives become a routine. Life isn’t about doing things over and over again.”
Live life for fun, she said. Live it to be happy, and live for what you enjoy. Now is the time to try new things.
“Smash Mouth says, ‘Only shooting stars break the mold,’” Schneider said. “Let’s make our dreams happen, even if they are outrageous ideas. There is no limit to how far we can dream ... Dream big Class of 2012. You’re all-stars. Get your game on and go play.”
The salutatorian for the Class of 2012 is Jacqueline “Nickie” Trudeau, the daughter of David and Valerie Trudeau. She plans to attend Hartwick College, majoring in biology.
“Remember the good times,” Trudeau said in her commencement speech, “and if you think about the not-so-good times, think about what we’ve learned from them.”
Change is unavoidable, she said.
“Guess what? If you make a mistake, there will be other opportunities,” Trudeau said. “They may not be the same opportunities or the exact change you would like, but there are always options.”
Trudeau asked the graduates to promise her that they won’t give up during challenging times.
“There’s more than one road to success, so you just have to find a path that works for you,” Trudeau said.