By Kellen M. Quigley
ELLICOTTVILLE — Fifty-two recent high school graduates were honored June 27 at the 20th annual Cattaraugus County Youth Citizenship Awards Banquet at the Holiday Valley Lodge.
Youth Bureau director Cathy Mackay said it was the first time the banquet has been held since 2019 and the first to be held after June’s high school commencement ceremonies. She said she was relieved to see so many of the honored grads — each was a recipient of the weekly Youth of the Week Award listed weekly in the Salamanca Press — in attendance.
“Somebody told me they are leaving for Florida in the morning,” she said. “Or you might be just tired of events and stay home and play video games all night.”
Mackay said the honored graduates have heard plenty of motivational speeches over the past few weeks, so she decided to read excerpts from two books on her desk: “52 Weeks of Gratitude” and “I Hate Everything,” offering both genuine and humorous words of wisdom.
Mackay left the graduates with two pieces of advice — travel anywhere and everywhere, but come home when done traveling. “If you do come back here or stay here, don’t think you’re a failure,” she added.
Cattaraugus County Legislature Chairman Howard Van Rensselaer congratulated the graduates on the honor that takes a lot of hard work and dedication. He said everyone is proud of their contributions to the communities, wished them well on their future endeavors but also encouraged them to come back to or stay in the county.
“It’s a great place to live, work and raise a family,” he added.
The night’s guest speaker, local gym owner Bradley Poole, shared some of his story as someone who lives with cystic fibrosis in hopes of giving the graduates some motivation and inspiration as they move past life in high school.
“When you’re going off to college, the workforce, trade school or the military, I hope this message resides within you for as long as you live and helps you through any challenging times you may encounter in your lives,” he said.
Poole suffers from cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes thick mucus to build up on the lungs and typically kills by the age of 40. When he was born, he said it was known as a childhood disease, since life expectancy was 18.
Poole knows what it takes for survivors to stay alive as his various treatments consume several hours of his life each day. He went from a youth who struggled with alcohol addiction, living as if he would die any day, to turning his life around after the death of his father. He said he wants to be a better role model and dedicated his life to raising awareness for healthy living with CF.
Since then, Poole has earned three degrees, owns his own fitness gym in Ellicottville and has raised more than $130,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation through various fundraisers, including a 300-mile run around Cattaraugus County and a 24-hour fitness challenge. He’s also married with children — and another one on the way.
“Never give up when times get tough. We go through difficult times,” he said. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”
Honored Youth Citizenship Awards recipients include Kendall Artlip, Rylee Barron, Elizabeth Black, Layla Boyer, Julia Bronnenberg, Zachary Buckner, Thomas Carls, John Charles, Emma Christopher, Erika Conhiser, Gianna DeRose, Alicia Fiske, Blake Frank, Elijah Hawkins, Cole Hedlund, Donald Higgs Jr., Harley Hoag, Hayden Hoag, Chloe Holleran, Paige Johnson, Hailey Jones, Sophia Kehl, Kylee Leonard, Anna Mest, Alexandra Minnekine, Maryam Mirza, Cameron Nagel, Kara Navarre, Makenna O’Connell, Luke Pagett, Megan Pagett, Tanvi Patro, Olivia Payne, Brooke Pecorella, Nathan Petryszak, Lucas Proseus, Daunte Reims, Ruth Scordo, Benjamin Shephard, Alan Shortz Jr., Sydney Smith, Ethan Smucinski-O’Brien, Madeline Straub, Everett Swenson, Kendall Valvo, Matthew Volz, Mallory Welty, Mia Welty, Caliana Wheller, Amara Williams, Anna Wolfgang and Elsa Woodarek.