MIDDLE TOWNSHIP - Salutatorian Connor Francis Kelly joked that he always seems to come in second place, but his send-off Tuesday evening to the graduating class of Cape May County Technical High School was top-notch.
Kelly, of Wildwood Crest, was among 130 fellow graduates, all of them pursuing a total of 19 different careers, in a gymnasium filled with family, friends, teachers and dignitaries.
In his green gown, he reflected on the past four years.
"High school kind of stinks," he said, to a mix of laughter and anxious smiles as the crowd awaited what would come next.
But Kelly had a point to his bluntness. Discarding the common platitudes, he admitted he was a little "rough around the edges" when he entered the school, but had been refined over time, both in his technical and social skills.
"Freshman year, I couldn't talk to anyone I didn't already know," he said. "Now, the only people I can't talk to are girls."
The future Temple University student, who will be pursuing journalism, said all jokes aside, he and all his classmates have become better people. He summed up his thoughts by quoting a non-traditional speaker: Rocky Balboa, from the movie "Rocky IV."
"What I'm trying to say is, if I can change, then you can change," he said in his best Sylvester Stallone impression, to cheers. "Everybody can change!"
It was a tough act to follow for state Sen. Jeff Van Drew, who arrived late from a meeting in Trenton due to the rain.
"That is going to be really hard to top," he said.
Still, Van Drew advised the graduates to be tough and push through adversity. Assemblymen Nelson Albano and Sgt. Robert Andrzejczak also wished the best for the class.
Valedictorian Matthew Boisseau Powers, of Cape May Court House, also discussed change. He remembered when upperclassmen booed their freshmen class, and then what he thought as a senior looking at the new freshmen class.
"Did we really look like that four years ago?" he said.
Powers, who studied graphic arts and design technology, also remembered the slights from people looking down on the school as he entered, saying everyone who went there was perceived as basket weavers, tractor drivers or underachievers.
However, as he looked out at the graduating class, he gave them a message to remember as they take their next step.
"Remember who you are, and how you got here," he said. "Don't let others define you."
Contact Lee Procida:
Follow on Twitter @ACPressLee