Graduates of Highland High School congratulate themselves at last Thursday evening’s ceremony.

That seemed to be the theme running through the Highland High School 2012 commencement exercises…”Family”. From High School principal Pete Harris through salutatorian Carl Adamczak to valedictorian Xiang Ying Shuai and winding up with guest speaker Scott MacFarlane from the Class of 1994. It was all about family — parents, teachers, brothers and sisters, cousins and uncles and aunts, grandparents and each other.

Harris began by asking everyone present at Thursday evening’s event out on the football field to honor each other. “Everyone has had a part in educating our kids.” And that these seniors have had past achievements and new opportunities that “have shown and will show a class of grace, pride and dignity.” Reminding the graduates that “there is a greater good outside of yourself,” he was sure that the Class of 2012 “will make us proud, with their idealism, healthy decision making and optimism to make a successful life.” And looking over the graduates he said, “you have left a legacy of accomplishment that has been left to you…help us continue it.”

Salutatorian Carl Adamczak was brief in his remarks, saying farewell to his beloved Highland High School, “that will always be a part of us,” and telling his fellow graduates “that tomorrow is the first day of the rest of our lives.”

The excellent concert band then serenaded the gathering with “From Whom All Blessings Flow” by Ed Huckeby and directed by Joseph Martellaro.

Valedictorian Xiang Ying Shuai then cut loose, speaking her native Chinese to her Mother (who was in China) on an imaginary cell phone. With great humor she reported (in English) that there “are 1000 people staring at me right now, and it’s scary.” She then launched into a run-through that “Highland is the best high school in Ulster County, and maybe the world,” and “that we may not be the smartest class, but we are the best-looking class ever!”…which drew a big roar from the graduates. She talked about her own growth as coming from China three years ago and learning to speak English (without a hitch, I may add), and learning that “community is all of you, it’s about all of you…No matter where you are, ever, you can always call this place home.”

It was a theme — home — that guest speaker Scott MacFarlane kept touching on, and in a touching way. MacFarlane, now a White House correspondent for a Washington DC TV station, told a sweet story about meeting President Obama recently to do an interview. As he waited in the Oval Office of the White House he thought over some topics he would discuss with the President, when Mr. Obama entered and sat down. Told beforehand that Obama liked to get to know a little something about his interviewer and liked to make small talk, asked MacFarlane: “So Scott, where do you come from?” MacFarlane immediately said: “Highland, a little town along the Hudson River in New York.” Reflecting on his answer, MacFarlane said, “I was at Syracuse for four years, worked in Detroit for seven years, live in Washington, and yet the first thought when he asked me, was ‘Highland’.” And MacFarlane recounted his career failures, one-by-one, and told the graduates that after each failure always some friends from Highland would call him to console him and push him along his chosen path. “Failures happen; we need them to keep dreaming,” added MacFarlane. “Highland IS the ultimate family community…we look after each other. I know.”

After being addressed by senior class president Nihir Parikh and school superintendent Deborah Haab, high school principal Harris awarded the diplomas to the best of Highland High School. The 130 graduating seniors then marched off into their lives to the recessional “Pacific Perimeter” by John Higgins. The Family that is Highland looked proud.