Marcellus High School principal John Durkee (right) ponders guest speaker Earl Smith’s commencement address.
Photo by Ned Campbell.
Marcellus Retired Onondaga County Sheriff’s sergeant Earl Smith will be the first to tell you: when you’re in high school, it’s not always cool to like cops. But after just two years as the School Resource Officer at Marcellus High School, Smith had the full attention of the more than 140 candidates for graduation as he delivered the commencement address today.
The graduates did, after all, choose him to be their speaker.
“I suggested they accept others for who they are, not how they look, dress or how they talk,” Smith said of some of his first discussions with the students. “They apparently listened, because high school kids in general are suspicious of the police. But they accepted me, and continued to communicate with me. I was even told that they respected me for doing my job, even when the outcome of that was some formal school discipline.”
As their SRO, Smith was a support system in times of need. On Sunday, he thanked the graduates for returning the favor in a big way.
“This past November, my youngest son, who was 26 years old, unexpectedly passed away,” Smith said. “These kids expressed their condolences, mailed me cards, and a large number of them even showed up at the wake. When my wife asked, ‘Who are these kids?’ I responded, ‘They’re my kids. They’re from the school.’”
Before receiving their diplomas, the graduates heard from some classmates as well. First up was senior class president Rebecca Nolan.
“Wherever life may take you, go with integrity, tenacity, and a smile,” she said.
Sean Dunn was selected by his classmates to give the honors address.
“The commonalities which we share are immense, and more than just creators of nostalgia, they are the binds which tie us all together,” he said. “Here there exists an atmosphere unparalleled by any group in any place in the world.”
“It’s been a ride I’ll never forget,” he continued, “and I’m so glad I made it with the people I did.”