Saranac Lake grads told to embrace fears

SARANAC LAKE – Embrace your fears and use them to your advantage.

That was the message Saranac Lake High School Class of 2013 Valedictorian Elena Beideck delivered Friday night to her classmates at the school’s 117th commencement ceremony, held in a sweltering Saranac Lake Civic Center before a crowd of hundreds of parents and family members of the class’ 116 graduates.

Beideck, who in addition to her academic achievements was also a standout athlete and music student during her high school tenure, admitted she’s nervous about what the future holds.

“The reason I’m standing here in front of you is because I became pretty adept at anticipation,” Beideck said. “Flash cards and notebooks can be crystal balls, preparing you for upcoming tests and assignments. But the future is not a test you can study for or vocabulary you can memorize, and that makes me more nervous than the SAT ever did.

“The future is elusive, exiting, frightening and entirely unpredictable all at once. But the remarkable rarely stems from the comfortable. Perhaps the best thing we can all do for our future is to face and embrace those things that make us uncomfortable and see where they take us.”

Beideck’s future, for the next few years, will play out at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where she plans to major in biology.

Her classmate, Jessica Kemp, delivered a salutatory address that was both funny and heartfelt. She framed it like an acceptance speech for winning an Academy Award, which is no surprise as Kemp said that’s a dream she’s had since she was young. Kemp performed in school musicals each of the last four years, was an active member of the music department and won all-state and all-Eastern honors for her vocal talents.

“I’d like to thank the academy,” Kemp opened. “Thank you for giving me this opportunity. The cast, the crew, the production team – working with you over the past four years has been beyond inspirational.”

Kemp then pulled out a list of thank-yous that she had written on a napkin, “because that’s what all the famous people do.” Several times during her remarks she said she was being told, by an imaginary teleprompter, to wrap it up.

Her speech also had a serious side. Kemp told her classmates not to give up when the odds are stacked against them and to not be afraid if they don’t know what they want to do yet.

“We’re young guys; we’ve got time,” she said. “Create, explore, hone in your inner child. Forget about all the boundaries. Go for it.”

This fall, Kemp will attend Emerson College, where she plans to study stage and production management.

The commencement address was delivered by retired state Supreme Court Judge Jan Plumadore, a 1960 SLHS graduate. He talked about the importance of persistence and sacrifice, citing the example of the Saranac Lake men who served their country in World War II as part of what’s now called “The Greatest Generation.”

“Are you willing to give something back?” Plumadore asked the graduates. “What would you be willing to do to justify the work, the danger, the toil and the sacrifice that people like the Greatest Generation left for us?”

Plumadore closed his speech by referencing the closing scenes in the Steven Spielberg film “Saving Private Ryan,” where a dying Army captain played by Tom Hanks tells the Private James Ryan, played by Matt Damon, to “Earn this.” Plumadore said the Class of 2013, and every American, needs to periodically ask themselves these questions.

“Did I earn it? Did I justify it? Did I make the right choices? Did I lead a good life?” he said. “May your answer always be yes.”

Friday’s ceremony was the last for High School Principal Bruce Van Weelden, who’s moving to the middle school in the fall, and Superintendent Gerald Goldman, who is retiring.

In a 10-minute speech, Goldman thanked the district’s teachers, staff and administrators and the greater Saranac Lake community for the support he received during his tenure. His remarks also had an apologetic tone.

“There have been times when I’ve done and said things out of anger, ran off my mouth when I should have, been impatient and hurt people, and I have regrets about that,” Goldman said. “For those who count themselves among those I have grieved, I apologize.”

Goldman encouraged the graduates to not forget where they came from, and to not forget those who helped to get them where they are today.

The commencement ceremony also included a musical tribute to the Class of 2013, the announcement of scholarships, the presentation of diplomas and a slide show and musical retrospective.

Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or