October 21, 2021

Graduates express themselves at ceremony

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland High School graduate Mikeala Allen’s cap is tribute to her ill father. She and other graduates made statements on their mortarboards for Friday night’s graduation.

A simple black-and-white photograph of MikeaIa Allen receiving a hug from her dad, Michael, was posted on the Cortland High School senior’s purple graduation mortarboard for Friday night’s graduation ceremony.

Written in script above it: “Look Dad, I did it!”

But Allen’s father wasn’t there to see her cross the stage to receive her diploma. He was at home surrounded by relatives, in the last stages of bladder cancer and expected to live only another week.

“He wanted me to be here,” Mikeala Allen said as she waited in a hall for the ceremony to begin.

She was among many of the seniors who in a sea of purple gowns and caps who made personalized statements as they marched Friday night into the SUNY Cortland Park Center Alumni Arena. Some marked accomplishments, others career paths and still others deeper emotions. The scene is being repeated at high school graduations across the area this weekend.

A scale-model of a single-family house with sustainable features that Reilly Brown spent two months designing and creating for an architecture class — complete with a miniature tree and shrubbery — was perched on his mortarboard.

“It was a big project,” said Brown, who plans to major in architectural design at Rochester Institute of Technology. “It took a lot of work.”

He said he received a 100 on the project for the class taught by Charles Petit.
“He is my favorite teacher, by far,” Brown said.

Nathan McCormick walked into the arena with the top edges of his mortarboard lined with posts and ropes of a wrestling ring and two men grappling in the middle.

“You have to wrestle your way around high school,” Allen said. “It’s a metaphor.”

He spent all day Friday securing the display to the mortarboard. Allen said he plans to major in criminal justice at SUNY Morrisville.

Wearing a black sash with gold trim printed with “U.S. Army,” Cody Wingard had attached a ring of plastic soldiers on the edges of his mortarboard surrounding a sign that read, “U.S. Army Combat engineer.”

Wingard said he will leave July 25 to begin basic training in South Carolina for a career following in the footsteps of his father and brother.

“I’m going right in the Army,” he said.

A flaming red symbol atop James Geiger’s mortarboard was the fire emblem for the “Wizard 101” game that he frequently plays on his computer, anywhere from 10 minutes to five hours a day.

Geiger said he plans to pursue a career working at an airport or for an airline, motivated by his grandmother, Jackie Geiger, who his mother, Loreen Geiger, said lied about her age so that she could train pilots for the Korean War in Arkansas when she was 16 years old.

Allen still couldn’t set aside thoughts of her father. A few minutes before the graduates began to line up for the start of the commencement exercises, she said she was looking forward attending Tompkins Cortland Community College, then Broome Community College to prepare for a career in the health care field, helping people like her father deal with cancer.

“I want to help people who go through the same thing,” she said.