Three students honored at Valhalla Center Commencement Ceremony

Three students who successfully completed programs in CAD, AIIM and TSP-DD were honored at the Valhalla Center campus during an intimate ceremony on June 17.

Principal Leslie Handler welcomed families and classmates of students Brandon Colon, Darragh Gillespie, and Ali Wilson, who today she calls graduates. Ms. Handler remarked how she and her staff are all very proud of their many accomplishments and noted how hard each student worked every day to reach this milestone.

“We all know how wonderful this school is, and I’m lucky to be the supervisor of these phenomenal students. Every day that goes by, I realize how amazing they all are,” said Ms. Handler.

“You and your families have persevered through the many challenges you faced to achieve this goal. While we are very excited for you on your special day, we want you to know that we will miss each one of you very much,” she continued.

Ms. Handler then presented the Bobby Newman Award to new graduate Ali Wilson, whose bright smile lit up the room upon receiving the prestigious honor.

The award is in remembrance of Bobby Newman, a special education student who died in a tragic accident several years ago. His family established a scholarship in his name to help special education students transitioning out of SWBOCES programs.

The ceremony continued with each students’ teacher taking the podium to share memories and words of encouragement.

Teacher Kim Gains remembered when she met Brandon as an eighth-grader five years ago.

“He was a bit challenging at first, but over the years I built trust with him with by giving him the keys to my car to get heavy bags for me,” Ms. Gaines said. Shortly after that he began doing all his work, which led to other students following his lead.”

Ms. Gaines continued with a story of how when her mom got sick, Brandon sent her an email saying he was thinking about her during that difficult period in her life. As a tear fell from her eye, Ms. Gaines bid Brandon a farewell and wished him luck in his future endeavors.

Darragh’s teacher Allison Waskiewicz followed with remarks on what she and other students will miss about the new graduate.

“It has been a pleasure to work with you Darragh. I will truly miss you and so will your classmates. Cameron will miss your confidence, James will miss your personality, Julia will miss how funny you are, Elijah will miss playing basketball during gym, and Hector will miss how fun you are to be around,” she said.

Darragh developed a love for cars through his work in the ICTE Automotive program and has already landed a job in the field.

Doreen Sheldon, Ali’s teacher, said how she will miss his sense of humor, his smile, his laugh and playful spirit, and his need for independence.

“I wish you nothing but the best as you continue your journey of independence. We will miss you, good luck in the future,” she said.

Ali closed the ceremony by gracing the stage to deliver one final message to his family.

“Thank you, Mom and Dad. I love you!”