Shenendehowa seniors snag their diplomas

class of 2015 with graduate cap with tassel

“Good, better, best is how the Plainsmen succeed. We don’t stop until our good is better and our better is the best.”
Janelle Robinson
Senior Class President

BY Molly Congdon
Gazette Reporter
There was hardly an empty seat in sight at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on June 25 as friends and family members of Shenendehowa’s Class of 2015 were forced to spill onto the lawn with blankets and fold-out chairs.

Compared to the many events SPAC hosts throughout the year, this one would be filled with more silence — as every ear listened to a single voice at a time through the microphone, but there isn’t a concert or ballet that could come close to matching the emotions that flooded the venue during the 62nd commencement exercises for the Plainsmen.

Prior to the ceremony, district Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson sat beside the row of empty chairs on the stage in complete silence, separating himself from the celebratory crowd. For several minutes he didn’t stir, eyes wide open, almost unblinking.

He was taking in the moment, the reality that his oldest child, Oliver Robinson III, will never walk the halls of Shenendehowa High School again; instead he will be heading to Howard University in Washington, D.C.

The Class of 2015 — like all that preceded it — was composed of an assortment of personalities and talents: athletes who have made their mark on the court, grassy field or track; musicians who have proudly played in all-state and other select groups; vocalists who wowed crowds in Shen musical and drama productions including “Noises Off” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie”; brainiacs who triumphed in the classroom and may someday invent something that will change the world; and artists who expressed themselves through their work, whether through a brush, pen or simply by hand.

Of course, there was also a fair share of Netflix-bingers as well as speed texters, tweeters and Instagramers — all of whom still managed to get their homework done.

It’s “The Breakfast Club” on a larger scale, much larger because there were over 650 kids who earned their degrees.

Despite their diversity, as they took their seats within SPAC the Plainsmen became a unit that had one thing in common — they had made it through high school.

“It’s amazing to think where our high school journey began just four years ago,” Senior Class President Janelle Robinson said. “From freshman to senior year, our class has experienced victory, challenge, sorrow and achievement; this journey is not easy. High school is filled with late evenings, hours of hard work, dedication and preparation for the future. However, it is also filled with countless pizza Mondays, obnoxiously competitive dodgeball tournaments, extravagant proms and other numerous events that made our high school careers busy but unforgettable.”

The students who achieved the top GPAs provided fellow graduates with some parting words.

“I’m here to tell you to do three things: Set fires, fight and take the shot,” salutatorian Nadia Suguitan said. “Parents please don’t panic. . . . Let me explain. When I say, start fires, I’m encouraging you to discover new passions and feed the flames of the ones you already have. A fire can be intimidating but if you allow yourself to embrace this potential, then you can use your power to effect change. I want you to fight for what you believe in and for those who can’t fight for themselves. And based on my calculations that Wayne Gretzky was right, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take; risk, success and failure are all wrapped up in the same package.”

Valedictorian Philip Sun, one of the best math students in Shenendehowa history, took a moment to recognize those with abilities that sometimes are underappreciated, which included the robotics team, the track stars and the color guard.

He kept things light-hearted for the crowd, throwing in jokes throughout his speech. “All you runners though, just remember that you can never beat Adam, and that’s because Adam came first in the human race,” Sun said. “I Googled that.”

“Everyone has asked me: ‘How does it feel to be the valedictorian?’ ” Sun said. “I think the most interesting question is: How would I have I felt if I wasn’t? But, I guess we’ll never know.”

He stretched his arms out wide and walked back to his seat. His classmates roared.

There were tears with the joy, both for graduates and their loved ones.

“For me personally, this class holds a special place because my eldest son is a member,” Robinson said. “Here I stand for the 10th time, this time as a parent of a graduate, the eldest child, the first to go. On one side I’m excited about the vast opportunities that lie ahead, but on the other side, I’m sad about the distance that is the natural result of our children branching out and defining who they are and progressing toward their dreams.”


“Sorry, kid; I promised I wouldn’t cry,” Robinson said as he held a white handkerchief and wiped tears away.

The audience instantly responded with applause.