FAIRFIELD — Dressed in blue and white and with eyes towards the future, the Lawrence High School graduating class of 2017 filled the junior high school gymnasium Friday night, heaping praise on those who helped guide them to the moment while also having praise heaped their way.

Roughly 150 students from Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield graduated at the ceremony, many fondly recalling their time at Lawrence while also anticipating what the future holds. Before the ceremony, senior Cassidi Poulin, 17, of Fairfield, said the four years she had spent at the school had gone by faster than she had anticipated. She praised her teachers over the years and said the school had been a “great environment.

“It will be hard to leave,” she said.

Blaise Garcia, 18, of Benton, said the time had gone by fast, but she was ready to leave. She said she’ll be studying theater studies at Ithaca College in the fall, and she had been involved with the arts department at Lawrence.

In his opening remarks to the graduates and other in the gymnasium — so crowded that the attendees spilled into an overflow room in an auditorium — Lawrence High School Principal Mark Campbell congratulated the seniors, saying whenever he asked them to respond to any situation, they were able to.

“God bless the class of 2017,” he said.

Three students spoke to their peers, family and friends, with similar messages of eagerness for the future, but also having pride in where they all came from. Jaden Gray, the salutatorian, said all her classmates had demonstrated perseverance in getting to where they were that Friday night, but that they must also keep pushing forward toward their goals. She said they learned a lot from parents, teachers and coaches and must remember that the future couldn’t exist without the present, and the present couldn’t exist without the past.

In introducing Gray, her teacher Peter Spears said Gray was a “fine example of what it means to be a Bulldog” — a reference to the school mascot — and more importantly “a great person.” He recounted how once, at a track meet earlier in the year, Spears had noticed a fellow runner who was struggling in her events. Gray slowed down to give her words of encouragement, and even ran alongside the girl, hand-in-hand, for a final lap.

“That selfless act is a prime example of sportsmanship and the spirit she has,” Spears said.

Gray spoke of some of the lessons she had learned over her fours years at Lawrence, such as learning to try new things, and learning to relax and remove stress from life.

“Learning from mistakes is what made us successful,” she said. “That is how we got here, trying new things and making mistakes.”

Gray also stressed to her peers that they must never forgot where they came from.

“Once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog,” she said.

Class president Kassie Joler said Friday night was a moment they should all be proud of. She said everyone in the room had accomplished a lot together and created many memories. She said in the room, there were future doctors, lawyers and politicians, “people who are going to change the world,” and said she was certain she would read about their accomplishments one day.

“I encourage you all to be the best person you can be and be happy in life,” Joler said.

Eric Brown, a teacher of Joler’s who introduced her, praised Joler for being a hardworking, caring, dedicated person. He listed her many accomplishments and activities, from dance team to sports and helping organize homecoming events. He said she was “the epitome of kindness.”

“This is a Bulldog who truly bleeds blue and gray,” Brown said.

In introducing the class valedictorian, Kaylee Brann, her teacher Tyler Duran said each student graduating that day was capable of being successful in life and could make a positive impact on any community he or she lives in.

“You must be determined, dedicated and not afraid,” he said, adding the students should be “courageous when life challenges you,” persevere in the face of adversity, and remain positive in the face of doubt. He said those were all attributes of Brann.

Brann echoed the themes of others, saying she knew all the graduating seniors could go on to do great things. She said everyone had the education necessary to succeed, and said while the next stages of their lives wouldn’t be easy, that they could accomplish anything.

“What we do over the next few years will greatly impact our futures,” she said.

She said when she was a freshmen in high school, it never felt like this day would come. But now she said it was a strange feeling to have gone through the last high school experiences, such as the last class, last first day, last walk through the halls. And she said while high school is often considered the best days of a person’s life, she hoped that wasn’t the case.

“I hope that’s not true,” she said. “I’d like to think the best has yet to come.”

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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