FORT ANN -- Principal Dan Ward brandished an unusual prop Friday night as he spoke to his 38 graduating seniors at Fort Ann Central School.

"As many of you know, this group of students was the last seventh-grade group that I taught before becoming principal," Ward told a packed, and thankfully air-conditioned, auditorium.

He paused and held up a black, wire-ringed book filled with papers.

"Teachers are pack rats, and I saved all my plan books. A few years ago, I got rid of all of them - except this one."

With that, Ward smiled and started reading from progress reports, all good ones, and told the class that after graduation, he would send their plan book to the trash heap as well.

He joked with one student about still owing him a science textbook from that class.

Ward's lighthearted tone is familiar to his students, and equally familiar to them is senior class adviser Georgia Alverson, who is retiring after 25 years of teaching. On Friday, she was overseeing her 18th graduation ceremony.

"I just need to get to seven o'clock," she said, watched the controlled chaos of the students primping and preening in the school media center. At 6:59 p.m., she raised her voice.

"OK, gang, let's get lined up. I can't think of a better group I want to leave Fort Ann with," she said to the students.

"She's helped us through so much," class president Zachary Goodman said of Alverson, who worked in research and development at General Electric Co. before becoming a teacher. "We're going to miss her, and the school is going to miss her."

Ward said he and the students were surprising Alverson at graduation with a diploma case of her own.

"It's got a certificate of appreciation in it, and every student in the class wrote something to her."

Ward and Superintendent Maureen VanBuren addressed the class, as did commencement speaker Erica Goodman, a master's degree candidate at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She spoke of wanting to leave her hometown and now wanting to return to it. She referenced one of the biggest moments in recent school history, the state Class D baseball championship the Cardinals won earlier this month.

"It may be the players who brought home the trophy, but it's the whole town that supported them to get there. Fort Ann is a community in all sense of the word," she said.

Two members of that baseball team accepted their diplomas, catcher Daniel Nassivera and centerfielder Jeremy Hoag.

"There have been so many incredible memories in the last month," Nassivera said before the ceremony.

Valedictorian Mary Hopkins and Salutatorian Dillon Wilson also addressed their classmates.

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