CORTLANDVILLE — Jensen Joseph came to Cortland Alternative School after he was ready to give up on life, but he said Tuesday night during graduation that the school changed that when it welcomed Jensen as its only transgender student.
“Being the only transgender student here made me a minority and it made me feel trapped and alone, but when I came out to the school I received nothing but positivity and support. I was no longer defined by my birth name and gender,” Joseph said Tuesday evening as he and 11 other seniors received certificates from the school. There are15 students in the 2016 senior class, three of whom were not in attendance Tuesday night.
Joseph, who came to the school from Homer High School, said he plans to become a veterinary technician.
A part of Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES, the Cortland Alternative School held its 30th annual commencement at 6 p.m. at the Charles H. McEvoy Education Center.
The students not only will receive the diplomas from the school but they will also receive diplomas from their home school as well, said Jayne Coffey, principal of Cortland Alternative School.
During the ceremony the graduating seniors each gave a speech about their path. After the speech they each presented a rose to someone important to them.
Some students mentioned fond memories they had since being at the school and also recognized family, friends and teachers who had supported them throughout school.
Joseph spoke about a school trip to Ithaca Falls Natural Area for a hike.
“The hike to the falls was calming, stress relieving and inspiring,” Joseph said. “We got to see a side of each other that school doesn’t allow us to.”
Graduates gave speeches prior to the presentation of diplomas.
l Leigha Gailor, of Homer, said she found her way when coming to CAS and that everyone comes from a different walk of life, but that doesn’t affect them as a person. She also said that CAS was a better choice because the class sizes were smaller, which made her feel comfortable and able to open up.
l Alexis Gilbert, of Homer, said she lost half a year of school before hearing of the positive experiences her friends were having at the alternative school, where she ultimately became comfortable with herself and the other students.
l Kailee Gillette, of McGraw, said she if she wasn’t able to attend the alternative school she wasn’t sure if she would have graduated. Gillette said a year ago she was skipping school most of the time and now a year later she plans to further her education at Tompkins Cortland Community College for nursing.
l Hunter Holl, of Cincinnatus, said that before coming to the alternative school she had thought about dropping out of school and getting her GED. Then her boyfriend told her about the Cortland Alternative School, which she said has raised her confidence and opened her up to other people.
l Jakob Hunt, of Homer, thanked his teachers, who pushed him to make it through school.
l Mariah Liadka, of Fabius-Pompey High School, said that attending Cortland Alternative was one of the best choices she ever made for herself. Her only regret was not coming to the school earlier. She thanked her teachers for working with her and never doubting her ability to graduate.
l James Miller, of Marathon, said the alternative school helped him get back on track and graduate on time. Miller plans to attend Morrisville State College for diesel mechanics and one day own a full service shop.
l Mackenzie Pendell, of Marathon, said he started at CAS in the seventh grade and that the hands-on classes were most effective at helping him learn. He plans to enter the work force to save up money for college, where he plans to continue an education in culinary arts.
l David Plumadore, of Homer, said he was planning to drop out of school until he visited the alternative school. He plans to attend TC3 for biology and botany for two years as well as to study music.
l Samuel Vanwinkle, of Homer, said CAS was such a help in getting him through high school, noting the small class sizes and how much time students can spend with teachers. He plans on finding a job in construction, which he said his time at the alternative school has prepared him for.
Senior Joshua Miller attended the evening’s ceremony but did not speak before the audience.
Graduates who were not in attendance included Daniel Reddick and Kayleigh Toole, both from Tully.
A special rose was presented to Melissa Jones, the mother of Brianna Copes of McGraw. Copes, who was killed in a car crash in August, was honored at this year’s graduation ceremony.