By Doug Ireland
---- — SALEM — Salem High School’s graduating seniors were reminded last night the desire to succeed comes from within themselves and those around them.
For class salutatorian Zachary Arnold, that desire was inspired by his brother, Samuel.
Arnold, one of 302 graduates awarded diplomas during the commencement ceremony at the school’s Grant Field, told the crowd of hundreds how Samuel was the person who truly taught him what is important in life.
“He truly inspired me to become the person I am,” Arnold said.
When his brother was 2 years old, he was diagnosed with autism, Arnold said.
For 16 years, Samuel struggled to learn how to ties his shoes, Arnold said. But then one day, Samuel proudly tackled the task, proving anyone can do anything if they are determined, he said.
“Sam never gave up,” Arnold said. “Anything worth accomplishing begins with hard work.”
Arnold said his brother taught him other valuable lessons as well, such as the importance of being yourself and accepting others for who they are.
Arnold, who will major in neuroscience at the University of Rochester, said he tries to give back to the community by helping disabled children.
“I would encourage you to give back,” he said. “Class of 2013, let’s remember to work hard and persevere.”
Valedictorian Noelle Castilla Ojo and class president David Rodriguez also asked their classmates to continue to do their best once they leave Salem High.
“The skills you gained here will continue to grow,” Castilla Ojo said. “I may be your valedictorian, but you all deserve to be up here with me.”
As the seniors sat in folding chairs on the football field, their families and friends cheered and waved from the bleachers, many using their programs to shield their eyes from the blinding late-day sun.
The boys wore blue caps and gowns, the girls’ graduation attire was white.
“I encourage you to always seek new goals,” Castilla Ojo told them. “We will achieve everything we define as successful.”
Rodriguez, class president for three years, told of how he’s grown as a person since starting high school. He asked his classmates to be resilient and accomplish their goals.
“Salem High School made me realize I can be anything I want to be,” he said. “Let’s show the world just what we are made of.”
The graduates also heard words of wisdom from Principal Tracy Collyer and Superintendent Michael Delahanty.
“I applaud you for your perseverance and determination in reaching this very important goal,” Collyer said. “You’re a group with diverse interests and multiple talents.
She told of how the graduating class includes a National Merit Scholarship finalist, Neal Foley; marching band members who performed at the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona; and athletes from three sports teams that won state championships this year.
Delahanty asked the students to prepare now for what life will bring later.
“You can’t predict your future, but you can plan your future,” he said.