BOLTON LANDING - Following tradition at Bolton Central School, scores of local citizens packed the school gymnasium to witness the seniors graduate - a mere 22 this year.
Whether they personally know the graduates or not, Bolton residents annually turn out for the ceremonies to communally send the students off with their best wishes.
In his graduation speech Friday, Valedictorian Ben Gaddy noted how valuable such a spirit was in the students' character development - as well as mentioning the irony of the fact he's headed off to Ohio State University, one of the largest schools in the U.S.
"Where else but in Bolton do you see such a strong community support from townspeople or even a school where two cousins are speaking at graduation?" Gaddy said. "It's very important to appreciate this special community that we have in Bolton."
"I speak for everyone behind me when I say that we could not have gotten to where we are now or where we are going in the future, without the help of our friends, relatives and teachers."
He said that this community bond would help the Bolton students face the challenges that lie ahead.
"We are not going unprepared," he said. "We will not go without the support of our friends and everyone else in the community. No matter how far we are going...we will not be alone."
Recounting both teachers attributes and quirks, Gaddy said the teachers have become like family to the students.
"Every single teacher has made this class who we are today," he said.
Salutatorian Michael Pratt also spoke of the strong community ties.
He said that instead of creating an ethnocentric environment, the small-school atmosphere nurtured important values in students, including not judging one by superficialities, and prompted appreciation of cultural diversity.
"We've learned not to judge one another from the external," he said, noting Bolton students prefer to appreciate who a person is "on the inside."