Robert Duffy didn't live long enough to be handed a Pelham High School diploma, but he was warmly remembered by classmates and educators during the school's graduation ceremony Friday night.
Balloons, flowers and a teddy bear were placed on an empty chair in the front row to honor the memory of Duffy, who died in October 2009, during his freshman year, after a long battle with brain cancer.
Class valedictorian Joseph Minichiello told the audience that Duffy was a key reason why the 130 graduating seniors had shared a special bond in school. The class had become like a family, and its members are like brothers and sisters, he said.
"(Robert) taught everyone of us to hug a little tighter, to take life one day at a time, to give each other a hand when we see a classmate in need, and that a smile is a perfect cure to any case of the blues," Minichiello said. "This lesson is what inspired each and every one of us to be who we are as students, as friends and, most important, as family members."
Principal Dorothy Mohr recognized individual students for their academic, athletic and creative accomplishments, and singled out four students who are entering military service.
She also praised the class for devoting more than 9,700 hours of community service. Twenty-five students had contributed more than 100 hours, and one class member, Brandon Hannon, gave more than 500 hours, Mohr said.
"Make your plan and enjoy your journey," Mohr told the graduates. "Congratulations. The world is waiting for you."
Noting that the group is graduating in 2013, Ashley Cloutier, class president, shared 13 life lessons with fellow graduates. One of those lessons, she said, is to never forget where you come from.
"According to the Chinese calendar, 2013 is the Year of the Snake. And I don't think any of us will ever forget the time we spent here as pythons," said Cloutier, referring to the school mascot.
Class essayist Alex Newton thanked teachers, coaches and parents for their support. Students are well-prepared for the future, he said.
Like Jaden Yabut, the salutatorian, Newton cracked a few jokes about the shortcomings of the school, which was built in the 1970s. But what goes on inside the school, rather than its aesthetics, are what's important, he said.
"In my opinion, Pelham High can't be measured by the physical nature of the building," Newton said. "You only need to spend a few days inside our halls to witness the spirit that lives here."