With the tossing of caps the PMHS Class of 2023 marked the end of its time in high school and set its sights on the next chapter. The annual commencement ceremony, which was held in the Pelham Middle School gym due to inclement weather, saw 211 seniors receive diplomas at a moving ceremony that included performances by the PMHS Band led by Andrew Van Bochove and a wonderful rendition of the National Anthem sung by Isabella Rosado.
A color guard was presented by American Legion Pelham Post No. 50 and speeches were given by PMHS Seniors Victor Chang, Leah Sherbansky, Class of 2023 President Thomas Cole, PMHS Principal Mark Berkowitz and Dr. Cheryl Champ, Superintendent of Schools.
The W.W. Fairclough Prize was awarded by PTA Council President Annemarie Garcia to the three top academic students: Emma Van Praagh, Ava Knickerbocker and Jonah Sherbansky.
Memorial Tablets were presented to Jonah Sherbansky and Emma Van Praagh by Dr. Cheryl Champ.
In addition to recounting many of the accolades achieved by the Class of 2023, Principal Berkowitz shared an anecdote about a woman, who at 93 years old, completed an 8-year journey to visit every U.S. National Park with her grandson.
“We hope you’ll call upon the wisdom generated through your journey here at Pelham Memorial High School to keep hanging on; to keep growing,” Mr. Berkowitz said. “And perhaps most relevant for us today is the reminder of how important it was for this grandson and grandmother to embark on their adventure together. Their journey guides us all to remember: this moment is happening, right now. And the time we spend with our loved ones, family and friends, teachers, coaches and mentors, are the moments of connection that will nurture and sustain us for the rest of our lives. Class of 2023, we are so proud of you.”
In his speech titled, “Do It For Yourself,” Victor Chang referenced the film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as he spoke about the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivators.
“Too much of our teenage lives have been governed by extrinsic motivators,” Chang said. “But it doesn’t have to be that way now. Because for the first time in our lives, we’ll be truly independent. We’ll have the agency to determine for ourselves what we want to do with our lives…Remember that each of us, by virtue of being human, has intrinsic value. You have so many intangible qualities that can’t be put on a resumé or a LinkedIn bio. Inevitably, many of us will stumble while pursuing our passions, but that doesn’t make you any less human. In fact, it makes you that much more impressive because you refused to let your dreams be snatched away.”
Leah Sherbansky, in her speech called “Dressing for Success, spoke about how every night throughout high school she would pick out her clothes for the next day. This small step, she explained, gave her a sense of accomplishment and allowed her to focus on other important things.
“Perhaps our thousand-mile journey will not be defined by the outfits we wear, but the people we meet and the stumbles we take,” Sherbansky said. “Each stumble will advance our journey far beyond the four years at Pelham Memorial High School. Until then though, let us start with a small step each day. As we embark on our journey beyond these halls, let us remember that it is through the seemingly small steps that we develop the resilience and confidence to conquer the grandest challenges that lie ahead.”
PMHS Class of 2023 President Thomas Cole recounted the many successes that made his classmates champions, including being National Merit Finalists, hockey champions, theater award nominees, accomplishments in science research and nationally recognized journalists. In his remarks, Cole reflected on the sense of community the graduates had formed.
“Recently, like most of my peers, I’ve been reflecting on my time in high school. I look back at the experiences I’ve been a part of, the lessons I’ve learned, and the relationships I’ve formed,” Cole said. “From the Socratic discussions in English, the first football game of the season, the labs in biology, silly walk practice, and so much more, all of the memories that immediately come to mind are centered around and can be traced back to one thing: community. The pride that is evoked in all of your hearts at the mention of all of the awards and achievements of our class doesn't necessarily come from your role in the specific achievement. It is derived from your place in this special community and the collective pride I think we all feel from it.”
Dr. Champ, reflected on a quote from NBA Analyst Jalen Rose, who said “People come into your life for four reasons: to add, subtract, multiply or divide. You have to choose wisely,” She challenged students who consider the people in their lives closely, to strive to build unity, and to consider what impact they were having on the lives of others.
“Now that you are at the final milestone of your high school career, much about life will change, Dr. Champ said. “This change can be exciting yet frightening at the same time. As you move into the next weeks, months and years, you are going to meet a lot of new people, form new relationships and be exposed to people from all different backgrounds and experiences.
“As you do, I encourage you to reflect upon this principle about people who add, subtract, multiply and divide. Ask yourself tough questions about not only who in your life falls into those categories and what you need to do about that, but also reflect on who you are to others and what you bring into their lives, and what else you can do about that as well. Every day provides a new opportunity for a fresh start.”
Dressing for Success
Now that we’re here, I’d like us all to take a moment to think about our outfits. The cap and gowns we’re wearing, the suits, and the dresses-- all so very coordinated and thought out-- for the most part. Many of us have been planning to wear these outfits for weeks; and then there are some of us who rolled out of bed as if it were any other school day and threw on whatever was most convenient, knowing it would be hidden
under a cap and gown. Whether you’re one or the other, or somewhere in between--we’re all signing out wearing blue, white, and yellow.
We all blend in uniform today. But, for me, that’s the opposite of what my four years of high school have looked like. Throughout four years of high school, I never found complete consistency in my day-to-day life. Even sitting down in my room to write this speech shortly before the first due date (as usual), I never knew how long I’d stay up at night pondering an unfinished task before checking it off. Unpredictability is always predicted.
I’d like to share a secret with you. Glancing around my room, filled with theater, research, and forensics speech paraphernalia, I found one task completed on time before any of my other assignments: my upcoming outfit. Snow or sunshine, each night before going to sleep, I picked out an outfit for the following day. It's nothing spectacular but a t-shirt and jeans.
This small yet attentive task has been going since the start of high school, so at this point, it’s second nature. Though seemingly dull, accomplishing that one item before going to sleep steered me throughout high school. I had one less task to do before zero period, and this gave me a sense of achievement before even arriving to school. In my mind, it signaled some sort of “accomplishment cascade”.
We see cascades all the time in nature. I learned this year in my AP Biology class that significant functions can begin with a tiny signal and short burst of energy. This triggers an entire pathway with a specific end goal.
While we’re here to celebrate the momentous, I also want to celebrate the small efforts.
Those outfits I’ve laid out, even throughout the pandemic, helped me take on the most ambitious assignments.
Simply having my clothes ready is something I celebrate, because it allows me to make room for the greater and greater tasks. It’s an action that ties together the good days, the bad days, and the “meh”. Let these tiny and seemingly insignificant moments spark your ‘accomplishment cascade’-- bringing you closer and closer to an even larger task.
But what if one outfit isn’t enough? Sometimes we need Broadway-style quick changes.
I’ll always remember that day in junior year when I had just finished presenting in a suit at a science fair, then promptly changed into my ‘Edna’ costume for Bright Star onstage, and back into a suit for a forensics speech tournament. It seems seamless, but behind
every quick change is a dozen of Pelham students and teachers who encouraged me to be a “researcher-actress-public-speaker” all in one day.
We all start off with a little help choosing our outfits. Soon, we take a step forward and go through emo or neon highlighter phases. Some phases disappear, some are here to stay. But in the end, we all leave our own stylistic footprint. My PMHS experience is embodied by the creative inspirations I’ve received, support webs I’ve fallen on, and the
baby steps I’ve taken to achieve the unpredictable. Today, these gowns we wear are not simply “phases”, but the culmination of countless efforts and struggles that we’ve encountered.
There’s a sign in my house with a Lao Tzu quote that reads: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. I never fully related to this quote, given I don’t intend on walking a thousand miles anywhere ever, but, in a month, I do plan on traveling roughly one thousand miles to begin college. Maybe your thousand-mile journey actually starts
with a million outfits! Baby shoes and trainer pants, jeans and cheer uniforms, suits and prom dresses, and soon we’ll be trading these caps and gowns for the next wardrobe change.
Whatever you end up wearing, the single step you choose to take should be something small, like picking out an outfit, or walking your dog, or giving yourself a daily pep talk in the mirror. It’s ironic that we’re all trying to look like one another today in our caps and gowns, when in reality, neither our identities nor our experiences have been the same.
Perhaps our thousand-mile journey will not be defined by the outfits we wear, but the people we meet and the stumbles we take. Each stumble will advance our journey far beyond the four years at Pelham Memorial High School. Until then though, let us start with a small step each day. As we embark on our journey beyond these halls, let us remember that it is through the seemingly small steps that we develop the resilience
and confidence to conquer the grandest challenges that lie ahead. I hope you all find time today to celebrate the little things that got you here, and those that keep you moving forward.
Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2023!
Good morning faculty, administrators, family members, friends, and classmates and congratulations to the class of 2023. I stand before a class of champions in every sense of the word: National Merit Finalists, State Hockey Champions, Roger Rees Theater Award Nominees, Regeneron ISEF qualifiers, nationally recognized local journalists, and much, much more. No two accomplishments are the same. It's the diversity of our achievement that makes our collective success so outstanding.
Recently, like most of my peers, I’ve been reflecting on my time in high school. I look back at the experiences I’ve been a part of, the lessons I’ve learned, and the relationships I’ve formed. From the Socratic discussions in English, the first football game of the season, the labs in biology, silly walk practice, and so much more, all of the memories that immediately come to mind are centered around and can be traced back to one thing: community. The pride that is evoked in all of your hearts at the mention of all of the awards and achievements of our class doesn't necessarily come from your role in the specific achievement. It is derived from your
place in this special community and the collective pride I think we all feel from it. The need for community is primal. It is as much a part of our humanity as the need for food and water. In the next chapters of our lives we will be embarking on new quests, facing new challenges. We will
be thrust out of this community, one that has supported us and that we have gotten to know and love. We will scatter and disperse throughout the nation and perhaps even the entire world.
It goes without saying that new friendships will be made, curiosities explored, new interests formed, and soon enough you and I will find that we are sewing the fabric of new communities, contributing in our own unique ways. I hope that we all are consciously aware of this process as it is occurring, investing in ourselves and those around us and thus improving the world. I can say now, or in a few minutes, as a graduate of PMHS through both successes and failures here inside and outside the classroom, I have learned multitudes about myself, my
weaknesses, my strengths, and most importantly with the help of friends, families, teachers and administrators I have started to hone the skills that I will bring from one community to another in the coming years.
During my time in high school I heavily favored the humanities over STEM. No offense to any science or math teachers here today. I found that my greatest academic strengths were able to shine when I was tasked with writing a research paper, analyzing Shakespearen plays,
or studying a unit on the Renaissance. Looking back it is abundantly clear to me that my most flaring passions and valuable skills lie in these subjects. Our duty as humans is not to keep these interests and strengths to ourselves, but to share them in an effort to better the
communities to which we belong. As I said before, this community that we have cultivated together over the past four years is one of champions in every domain. Our skills are multi-faceted. I have no doubts that you all will contribute greatly to the communities you join
and help construct in the coming years.
Today it's undeniable that our greater global community faces many problems.
To solve them it will take a diverse range of scholars, planners, and thinkers with various fortes and skillsets. However, when I look out in front of me at my peers and think about all that you and I have accomplished in these four years I am encouraged. Let’s all invest in ourselves and in one another so we can build a kinder, healthier, and more connected world.
To the class of 2023 it has been an honor to serve as your President for four years, and once again, congratulations.
Good morning, friends, families, faculty, staff, members of the Board of Education and, most importantly, the distinguished Pelham Memorial High School Class of 2023. I am honored to be here today to congratulate you and to share a few brief comments on this momentous day, for this most esteemed group of graduates.
Each year I watch and wait for inspiration to strike for my graduation remarks. As anyone here who has written a personal essay, or even a speech knows, inspiration can be a tricky thing to come by. Where does it come from? A song? A book? Perhaps a poem, a memory, or a life experience.
This year, my spark came watching, of all things, NBA coverage on ESPN!
Flipping through channels one night, I caught NBA analyst Jalen Rose speaking during a segment of NBA Countdown. Commenting on a player who was going through personal turmoil, Rose shared a message – a simple statement that I found to be profound and challenging as I considered its meaning.
“People come into your life for four reasons: to add, subtract, multiply or divide. You have to choose wisely.”
“Add, subtract, multiply and divide.” Mathematical functions drilled into all of us during our elementary school years. After hearing this statement, I found myself reflecting on the people in my life and how those simple mathematical functions applied to them. But deeper than that, I also thought about what kind of person I am to others.
These terms are not value-laden, necessarily.
Theoretically each can have both positive and negative products or results. While I recognize that, I choose to view them at face value and think about the lessons this analogy is meant to convey.
People can add to our lives in so many rich ways - by getting to know us, loving us, encouraging and challenging us, and helping us to become a better version of ourselves. They bring diversity of perspective and experience to broaden our world. They may mirror our beliefs and values back to us in reinforcing ways, and they may also give us windows into whole new perspectives and experiences that challenge our assumptions and make our lives richer. In doing so, their value is additive. We are enhanced by what they contribute.
Author, Hal Elrod said, "When you live your life in alignment with a purpose that is centered on selflessly adding value for others, opportunities become abundant and your life becomes fulfilled."
The people who have added to my life are my family, friends, and the many teachers, coaches, mentors, and colleagues who have shared their lives with me - both the good and the bad - and supported my dreams along the way. It has been said that a friend sticks closer than a brother (or sister, I would add). Pause for a moment. Who has added to your life? How are you adding to theirs?
An unfortunate truth is that there are also people who subtract from our lives. Those who, purposefully or not, take away some element of ourselves. Perhaps some of these people tear you down. Perhaps they are not interested in truly listening or getting to know who you are and what you are about, but instead come with pre-formed assumptions and prejudices and can make you feel “less than.” Perhaps, as you enter a broader world, you will find that some pruning is needed and the adage of “addition by subtracting” may hold true. Or maybe there are people in our lives who help us guard against our inevitable flaws. Perhaps by subtraction, they help keep us in check, and their effect is actually additive. Our lives are systems of relationships. As you venture out into the larger world, take time to ask yourself, “Are you adding or subtracting from someone else?”
A.C. Benson said, "People who deal with life generously and large-heartedly go on multiplying relationships to the end."
People who live life with this kind of generosity and heart help us to see who we can aspire to be and then support our growth and development as we take the next steps to make that aspiration a reality. Having been blessed by them, we can then pay it forward and do the same for others. This cycle means that we can be the catalyst to help lead others toward a better future. They help us to see new possibilities that we never dreamed of and stand by us as we reach for the stars. Who are those amazing people that are multiplying blessings in our lives? Likely these may be some of those same friends, family, and mentors who see something in us that we don’t see in ourselves and provide the opportunity and encouragement to take that big step and follow our dreams to new places we never even imagined.
How do we factor into others’ lives? How do we help them see their value and spur them to aspire to even greater heights? Whose life are we generously and large-heartedly pouring our lives into?
It’s not breaking news to tell you that we live in divisive times. While it’s easy to look at division in a big picture sort of way, it’s harder to look at the people in our lives who divide us. Division can have a devastating effect, causing separation in our relationships, division in our communities, and drive a wedge between us in ways that cause us to forget common decency and basic civility and respect. How do we turn this division around and create unity instead?
John J. Teirney Jr. reminds us that, “Whereas division implies separation, diversity implies variety within a whole.” One of the best qualities of Pelham is the diversity of our school and community. This student body has demonstrated that diversity is a strength and is a proud part of who we are as a whole.
As you move into the broader world beyond Pelham my hope is that you continue to cherish and celebrate the differences of the people who come into your life and see those differences as gifts to broaden your horizon and not see that as divisive or “othering”. When I think of the motto of our country - e pluribus unum - out of many one - I believe the more diverse the many, the stronger the one will be.
Now that you are at the final milestone of your high school career, much about life will change. This change can be exciting yet frightening at the same time. As you move into the next weeks, months and years, you are going to meet a lot of new people, form new relationships and be exposed to people from all different backgrounds and experiences.
As you do, I encourage you to reflect upon this principle about people who add, subtract, multiply and divide. Ask yourself tough questions about not only who in your life falls into those categories and what you need to do about that, but also reflect on who you are to others and what you bring into their lives, and what else you can do about that as well. Every day provides a new opportunity for a fresh start.
As Howard Zinn reminds us, “Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” By investing in others, you have the ability to add, multiply, and act exponentially to change the world.
For the past 6 years - since 7th grade, which is arguably one of the most awkward years of life - I have had the pleasure of watching you blossom and grow. You have excelled, and demonstrated excellence at assemblies, community project presentations, honor society inductions, awards ceremonies, concerts and plays, athletic competitions, science research symposia, the Olympics, the battle of the bands, in classes remotely and in person, and throughout the halls of PMHS. Despite your high school experience beginning with the major disruption of a global pandemic, you developed grit, found a way to restore time honored traditions, build new ones, and strengthened the esprit de corps that has been the hallmark of PMHS classes for generations. Each of you is gifted, talented and unique and leaves today a successful graduate and ambassador of Pelham Memorial High School.
As you go forth from these hallowed halls on to the next stage of life, it is my sincere hope that you “Honor here the ideals for which they fought,” as is inscribed above the stage in the auditorium of this Memorial building - ideals of scholarship and service, and that you cherish fondly the relationships you made with staff and students during your time here, and that add to the firm foundation that has been laid during your time in Pelham to multiply your impact and truly change the world for the better. Thank you, best wishes to the class of 2023 and remember to look for inspiration at every turn.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a film that really scared my pants off. Granted, I don’t know what 3rd grade me was expecting from a movie whose tagline is: “WATCH OUT! THEY GET YOU WHEN YOU’RE SLEEPING!” Also, if you’re wondering how a sci-fi horror movie from the 70s relates to your high school graduation, just bear with me here.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers starts off with a bunch of alien okra pods landing in a small California suburb. The pods then quickly mind-control the inhabitants of the town.
In the literal sense, we teens are immune to getting “body-snatched”; They can’t get us when we’re sleeping if we hardly sleep anyway. Metaphorically speaking, we already have, to varying degrees, been body-snatched, having our true desires and passions subsumed by
societal pressure. And that pressure isn’t going to end in the next four years. Many of us are heading into highly competitive, dare I say cutthroat college environments, where the pressure to succeed can feel claustrophobic.
I’m not saying to completely cut yourself off from society Kerouac-style and live like Yoda in the swamps of Dagobah. I think there is a compelling case for the 9-to-5 lifestyle if it means you can live in a house and take showers.
What I have to say is this: Whatever it is you choose to do with your life, do it for yourself. A concept that’s thrown around a lot is the idea of different types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. According to a 2003 study at Princeton University, there are two categories of things that motivate us: intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivators come from within ourselves: for example, joining the band because it brings you joy to play Pomp and Circumstance for 30 minutes in [insert weather here], or learning how to integrate trigonometric functions because it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Extrinsic motivators come from the external world. For example, joining the band because it’ll look so, so good on your Common App, or learning how to integrate trigonometric functions because oh god the midterm is tomorrow and I still don’t understand it.
(Based on a true story)
Too much of our teenage lives have been governed by extrinsic motivators. But it doesn’t have to be that way now. Because for the first time in our lives, we’ll be truly independent.
We’ll have the agency to determine for ourselves what we want to do with our lives.
This is where the body-snatcher metaphor starts to break down since, in the movie, there’s no possibility of redemption; once you’re body-snatched by the evil okras, there’s no escape. But I doubt any of you would want a graduation speech where I tell you to bow before your vegetable overlords, so I’ll shelve the metaphor for now.
I know for a fact that every single one of you has something that you’re passionate about. I know this because many of my friends in the science research program here at PMHS love what they do, and it shows. As someone going into the humanities who won’t touch a biology textbook with a ten-foot pole if I can help it, the fact that some of you are willing to stare at hermaphroditic worms under a microscope for hours on end really shows the level of dedication and passion you have for science. You guys have won a record breaking number of awards and accolades, and it’s all because of that passion. So I’d like to give a shout out to the science research program at our school for developing this passion for
science that you all have.
That passion, that intrinsic motivation, is what we all must embrace in the coming years.
Take courses that fascinate you. Do the things you’ve always wanted to do (preferably within the confines of the law). And remember that each of us, by virtue of being human, has intrinsic value. You have so many intangible qualities that can’t be put on a resumé or a LinkedIn bio. Inevitably, many of us will stumble while pursuing our passions, but that
doesn’t make you any less human. In fact, it makes you that much more impressive because you refused to let your dreams be snatched away.
If you only take away two things from this fever dream of a speech, let them be this. The first: watch Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s amazing. The second: hold onto your dreams and passions for dear life, even as society tries to snatch them away from you. Don’t let the
alien okras win. Thank you.
Students, Teachers, Families, Loved Ones, Friends:
It is with great joy that I welcome you to the Pelham Memorial High School Class of 2023 Commencement Ceremony.
I would like to begin by thanking Mr. Andrew Van Bochove, the PMHS band and Isabella Rosado, for their dynamic performances.
Thank you to the Pelham Public Schools Board of Education, Dr. Champ and the Department of Facilities for your help in providing this beautiful graduation setup.
And thank you to the PMHS PTA for these lovely flowers.
Extraordinary thanks are due to every teacher, administrator and faculty member of Pelham Memorial High School & the Pelham Public Schools.
Your dedication to our students’ has allowed us to reach this day.
Parents, families, loved ones: This is your day of celebration too.
Our Class of 2023 would not have reached this moment without your love, support and guidance.
Joining us today are friends and family who are themselves graduates of Pelham Memorial High School. We are so happy you are here.
Will all former PMHS Senior Class members please stand and be acknowledged.
And now, to the class of 2023:
Your Intellectual Achievement and Commitment to Service have Inspired us.
Your artistic & musical creativity have stirred our souls.
And your athletic prowess will forever be remembered.
You have truly embodied our Pelham Memorial High School ethos: Excellence: Inspired by Tradition, Empowered Through Community.
Seated among the class of 2023 are five National Merit Scholarship Finalists and Five National Merit Scholarship Commended Scholars.
Three of our students were named top 300 scholars in the Regeneron Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious science and math competition for high school seniors.
Two of our Seniors, and a third student, qualified to represent our school and region at the Regeneron International Science & Engineering Fair in Dallas, Texas.
And the 2023 Pelican was named Best of the Best High School Yearbooks by Herff Jones!
Also featured in the Class of 2023 are award winning actors and visual artists, All State Choral Members, Two All State Athletes and Three Academic All Americans.
Several members of the Class of 2023 will be competing for their college or university in sports such as football, lacrosse, rowing, rugby, softball and volleyball.
In the Fall, members of the Class of 2023 will attend colleges and universities across the United States. Several will be attending colleges or universities outside of our country in locations such as Durham, England and St. Andrews, Scotland. And one exchange student will be returning home to Italy.
Two students will demonstrate their commitment to leadership and public service by joining the United States Armed Forces. One will be headed to the Marines. The other, will attend the United States Military Academy, West Point.
Will these Armed Forces bound Seniors please stand.
Please join me in thanking these students for their commitment to Duty, Honor and Country.
Last month I heard an amazing story of family and courage.
Perhaps you heard it too. In May, 93-year-old Joy Ryan set a world record. Over the past eight years she and her 42-year-old grandson visited every United States national park. That’s 63 national parks, including the National Park of American Samoa. When they started, she was an 85-year-old who had never seen the ocean or set foot on a mountain.
In reflecting on her experience going down Class 3 White Water Rapids in Alaska at age 91, she stated: "It was great. You just have to hang on, that's all."
When hiking among the soaring Redwoods of California, she observed “some of these giants had been struck by lightning. "And you think: that takes courage, after you've been struck by lightning to say, 'I'm gonna keep on growing.”
Students, in the next few years there may be times when, metaphorically, you feel like you too are riding Class 3 rapids; or that you’ve been struck by lightening.
We hope you’ll call upon the wisdom generated through your journey here at Pelham Memorial High School to keep hanging on; to keep growing.
And perhaps most relevant for us today is the reminder of how important it was for this grandson and grandmother to embark on their adventure together. Their journey guides us all to remember: this moment is happening, right now. And the time we spend with our loved ones, family and friends, teachers, coaches and mentors, are the moments of connection that will nurture and sustain us for the rest of our lives.
Class of 2023, we are so proud of you.
On behalf of your teachers, faculty and the Administration of Pelham Memorial High School, we wish you continued success and much happiness in the days and years ahead. Congratulations!