Albion’s Class of 2019 bound together by grief and love
Brennan Moody’s parents accept his diploma at graduation
Photos by Tom Rivers
ALBION – Members of Albion’s Class of 2019 toss their caps near the end of commencement on Friday in the high school gymnasium.
The students have been reeling from loss of their classmate Brennan Moody last week in a car accident.
Before the graduation ceremony, 85 teachers and staff surrounded the class in the LGI room and did the Albion cheer, urging them to celebrate the evening.
There are 155 students in the graduating class. They were all given a guitar pick with Brennan Moody’s name. Brennan loved to play the guitar and performed in the school musicals, with the band and choruses. He died on June 18.
Many people who attended graduation wore “Albion Strong” T-shirts in support of the Moody family.
Rhiannon and Erin Moody accept the diploma on behalf of their son. Mrs. Moody is hugged by Michael Bonnewell, the Albion school district superintendent, while Mr. Moody is embraced by Kathy Winans, the senior class advisor.
The Moodys receive a standing ovation from Brennan’s classmates and the crowd. Erin and Rhiannon Moody both walked over and hugged two of Brennan’s classmates, Angel Colon and Isaac Coppini, who were in the car the night of the accident on Eagle Harbor Road.
Sean Weis also was seriously injured in the accident. A picture was shown on the monitor in the gym of him receiving his diploma on Thursday at the Erie County Medical Center. He is shown with Michael Bonnewell, the district superintendent; Frank Movalli, high school interim principal; and Margy Brown, president of the Board of Education.
Avalina Hand is the valedictorian of the class of 2019. She is headed to Rochester Institute of Technology to study diagnostic medical sonography.
She praised her classmate, Brennan Moody, for using his talents with music to bring joy to other people.
“Above all else he was a friend,” she said.
She encouraged her classmates to follow his example of accepting and loving other people.
Jessica Schleede, the class salutatorian, joins her classmates in the processional into the gym to start commencement. She is headed to St. Bonaventure in the fall with a dual major of elementary and special education.
The Class of 2019 is like a big family, she said.
They have grown close and been bounded through their sorrow. Not only did the class lose Brennan Moody last week, but their classmate Evan Ferchen passed away at age 8 on March 27, 2010, two days after heart surgery. Brandon Parker was 9 when he died on Feb. 23, 2011.
Brennan Moody sang many songs publicly at school, including, “This is the Moment” at the Senior Tea. Schleede said that song is a reminder “to live for today and not for tomorrow.”
She said the class will always be welcoming and students should turn to their friends for years to come.
“If at some point you find yourself lost always remember you are part of a very big family,” she said.
Michael Bonnewell, the district superintendent, said he was particularly close with this year’s class. He served as interim high school principal for three months this school year and joined the students at numerous events, including a chorus trip to New York City.
He recalled being in the city when a woman asked him if a group of students were his kids. He answered affirmatively, which surprised the woman.
“Yes, these are all my kids,” Bonnewell shared in his speech. “You are all my kids.”
Bonewell said the class distinguished itself in many ways. The group performed 6,200 hours of community service. They were members of teams that won seven Niagara-Orleans championships and three Sectional crowns. They were all-state in music, and widely recognized for the musicals by the Stars of Tomorrow program in Rochester. The marching band played the national anthem at a major league field (Cleveland Indians) and for two minor league teams.
Students earned 700 college or Advanced Placement credits, while 42 percent have advanced Regents diplomas with distinction, well above the state average.
But not everything can measured. Bonnewell said the students have supported each other through heart-wrenching loss.
“This class has distinguished itself by its resiliency,” he said.
McKenna Boyer, the class president, gives the welcome message. She praised her classmates for their school spirit, their excellence in athletics and the arts, and for their commitment to each other.
“Our class has stuck together in the hardest of times,” she said.
Julie and Chris Keller, both Albion teachers, were among 85 staff that marched in the processional. Normally the staff and teachers were black robes. This time they all wore choir robes in honor of Brennan Moody and Sean Weis, who were both active in the chorus. The teachers and staff also wore Albion Purple Eagle buttons that said, “Together We Are Strong.”
Kirk Ellison, the class treasurer, leads his classmates into the gym. He is followed by twin sisters, Alexa and Malory Adams.
The Caledonia Pipe Band remains a commencement tradition at Albion. The pipe band leads the students into the gym and then for the recessional at the end of graduation.
Enoch Martin gives Mike Bonnewell, the district superintendent, a hug after Enoch received his diploma.
The graduates stand for the national anthem, which was sung by seniors in the chorus.
Evan Howard pauses to accommodate a group that wanted to take his photo.
Amanda Kuehne is joined by her family for a picture in front of “2019.”