Medina graduates celebrate at commencement, just as Evoy would have wanted
MEDINA – The graduation program on Friday for 120 members of the Class of 2016 began with a moment of silence for Jeff Evoy, the district superintendent for nearly five years and father of two recent Medina grads.
Evoy died on Thursday at age 50 after fighting a recent serious illness. He had been hospitalized for nearly a month, but continued to check email and be in close contact with school leaders.
High School Principal Michael Cavanagh told the packed auditorium that Evoy “was our beloved superintendent who passed away unexpectedly.” Some people in the crowd gasped, and hadn’t heard the news before that moment.
The graduation program went on as usual with the the singing of the national anthem, the alma mater, and selections – “It’s Hard to Say Goodbye” and “The Halls of Ivy” – by the A’Cappella Choir.
Salutatorian Zachary Harris delivered his speech, “What is Your Reason?” and was followed by Valedictorian Amanda Lunden’s “Reflect, Risk, Reward” message.
Mark Kruzynski, the former high school principal who is now the district’s business administrator, delivered the commencement address.
Kruzynski served as acting superintendent and joined Wendi Pencille, the Board of Education president, in presenting the diplomas to the graduates, degrees that were signed by Evoy.
Students and Medina staff said after the program that Evoy and his family were in their thoughts and prayers.
Amanda Lunden, the valedictorian, showed her diploma bearing Evoy’s signature. She was in the school marching band with Evoy’s two children, Sean and Kelsey, who have since graduated.
“He was supposed to be up there with us,” Lunden said after the program when graduates met with their families outside the high school. “We all pictured being on the stage shaking his hand.”
Lunden, in her speech, urged her classmates to be reflective and not take people for granted. She urged her classmates to not “settle” in life, and take chances in better serving their families, attaining more success in their careers, and serving their communities. The focus shouldn’t be on attaining wealth and awards, however.
“When they lay you in the grave are people going to stand around reciting the fancy titles you have or are they going to stand around giving testimonials about the things you did for them?” Lunden said in her speech. “Will they list your degrees and awards or will they tell about what a blessing you were to them?”
Zachary Harris, the salutatorian, shared about how he had great expectations for his senior year, playing soccer and being active in numerous school activities. Harris, however, broke his leg in a soccer game in October.
He was out of school for about 10 days. When he returned he was behind in his classes and struggled to get around the school. He learned to appreciate his friends more for helping him get to his classes. Teachers also stayed after school to help him catch up on his schoolwork. Physical therapists pushed him to recover from the injury.
Now, eight months after the injury, Harris said he is nearly fully recovered. He was able to do throwing events in track, attend the winter formal and recent prom. He said he is thankful for all of the assistance he received and urged his classmates to pursue service occupations. Regardless of their careers, Harris told his classmates they should give back to the community and look for ways to help others.
“Doing something, no matter how minor it may seem to us, is not minor to the person you are helping, and it could make a huge impact on that one person’s life,” harris said.
Zachary Harris and Amanda Lunden had their speeches written before Evoy’s death. They stuck to their prepared speeches. Harris said Evoy was student-focused.
“He would have wanted us to go on just as if he was here,” Harris said.
The teachers, administrators and staff didn’t let their mourning disrupt preparations for graduation. Chris Keller, a Board of Education member and friend of Evoy’s, praised the school professionals for carrying on despite their grief over a very popular superintendent.
Evoy’s wife, Maureen, sent message to school on Friday morning that her husband wouldn’t want graduation to be a sad occasion. She urged the Medina community to celebrate the students’ achievements.
That was difficult to do when so many were in mourning, Kruzynski said after commencement.
“This is just terrible, it is devastating,” he said about Evoy’s death. “We’re all in shock.”
The district had been planning to have Kruzynski function as acting superintendent for graduation because Evoy was hospitalized. But Kruzynski said Evoy’s death was a surprise and a painful loss.
“It’s impossible to fill his shoes,” Kruzynski said.
During his speech to the class, Kruzynski urged them to find careers they enjoy so their jobs don’t feel like work.
Afterwards, Keller said serving as district superintendent was Evoy’s “dream job.” He loved leading the district where he lived, helping students raise their achievement. Keller said he was expecting Evoy to stay in the job for another decade.
Keller and Evoy worked across the hall from each other when Evoy was a middle school social studies teacher in Albion. Evoy was a passionate teacher, leading students in service projects, including a Vietnam War Memorial in front of the middle school. In 2004, he was finalist for New York State teacher of the year.