WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. Embracing change and taking calculated risks in life were some of the messages delivered to the Lakeland High School Class of 2012 during commencement exercises Saturday at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.
A total of 282 students received their diplomas during a lively ceremony that featured two standing ovations from the graduating class for student-chosen speaker Matthew Wright, a senior, and longtime math teacher Michael Rapalje, who was described by Principal Cheryl Camp as "the heart of Lakeland High School."
"I can't believe I'm at the County Center and there is no basketball game being played," said Rapalje. "Because of each of you, the world will be a better place. There will always be a common denominator that binds us. That denominator is 'We are Lakeland.'"
Rapalje told students to make the most of every opportunity that comes their way every day.
"Never lose that little child's attitude about life," he said. "Be positive, be excited about exploring new ideas and be enthusiastic about what you do."
Valedictorian Meghan McGowan and Salutatorian Colleen Riordan spoke about the changes students have gone through with their interests, appearances, personalities and dreams.
"Each of us has to learn to embrace changes in our lives. If we want to be truly happy we have to change," said Riordan, who will be studying at the University of Notre Dame in the fall. "No matter how much we change, we have to remember our past as well. Remember all the good times we've had at Lakeland."
"I was once told a turtle never gets anywhere unless it sticks its neck out," said McGowan, who will be attending Holy Cross. "You have to take risks. Don't be afraid to stick your neck out."
Superintendent of Schools Dr. George Stone said the Class of 2012 was armed with the knowledge to succeed.
"We did a pretty good job. Be confident. You're prepared to compete. You have the background for success," Stone said. "As Yogi Berra said, 'When you come to a fork in the road, take it.' Take the best one."