Marsha Rivers – 2014 Convocation Speech

Each year, the Albion Central School District honors those students who held a cumulative average grade of 90 percent or higher throughout their four years of high school. On May 19th, 35 students were honored at the 2014 Annual Academic Honors Convocation Dinner at Hickory Ridge Country Club. To learn more about this event and the students who were honored, click here to read the Orleans Hub article by Sue Cook, Staff Reporter.

The keynote speaker at this year’s Convocation Dinner was Marsha Rivers, who spoke about what it was like growing up in Albion and the teachers that inspired her, made an impression on her life, and became life-long friends. Those amazing teachers and friends were present at the dinner to support her.


Marsha’s “Cloud of Witnesses”

Standing: (l-r) Gary Simboli, Linda Kerr, Julie Sanford (representing Elma Sanford), Ron Sodoma

Seated: (l-r) Betty Sue Miller, Marsha Rivers, Karen Sodoma


Left to Right: Gary Simboli, Julie Sanford (representing Elma Sanford), Marsha Rivers (at podium), Betty Sue Miller (not visible – standing behind Marsha), Linda Kerr, Karen Sodoma, Ron Sodoma, and Tom Rivers (seated, looking on)

Marsha was kind enough to share her speech and some photos with us so others can be inspired by her story.

About Marsha:

Marsha Rivers grew up in the Albion Middle School band room as the youngest daughter of instrumental music teacher and legendary runner Sid Bolton. After graduating from Charles D’Amico High School in 1992, Marsha attended the University of Buffalo for one year before transferring to Roberts Wesleyan College, where she met and hired Tom Rivers as her assistant editor for the college newspaper. Marsha liked Tom, so she married him. She liked Roberts too, so after a year-long stint as a journalist, she returned as an admissions counselor, alumni relations coordinator, marketing director, adjunct professor, and editor of the college magazine. (Not all at once.) In 2009, Marsha became executive director of the Care Net Pregnancy Center for four years before accepting her current position as development director for Hospice of Orleans. In addition to her professional roles, Marsha serves on the Albion High School Alumni Foundation, the Eastman at Albion Concert Series Committee, as an Albion Strawberry Festival organizer, and a Village of Orleans volunteer. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communication, her master’s in theology, and next week (May 29) will be confirmed as a ministerial candidate in the Free Methodist Church. Marsha and Tom live with their four children in the village of Albion. The local news site is headquartered in their living room.


Marsha (Bolton) Rivers

Marsha and Tom

Tom and Marsha Rivers


Marsha and her daughter, Vivian

Marsha’s Speech:

“The Story of My Life” (And yours!)

Marsha (Bolton) Rivers, Albion Class of 1992

Speaking to the Albion High School Honors Convocation

May 19, 2014 at Hickory Ridge Golf & Country Club, Holley, NY

Well, hello! Here we are! Here I am…me!? Little Marsha Bolton, asked to address this impressive gathering of brainpower, beauty and potential for success.


Marsha in kindergarten

Of course, now I’m Marsha Rivers – in fact, when the mail arrived in March, that’s who I thought was being invited to serve as the keynote speaker tonight – my much more famous other half, local journalist, Mr. Orleans Hub himself, Tom Rivers. But no, the letter clearly said “Dear Marsha…” And as much of an Albionite as Tom has become, he’s never been a Purple Eagle.

“Once a Purple Eagle, Always a Purple Eagle” – I am a Purple Eagle!


Marsha at graduation – 1992

Albion Class of 2014, I am one of you. My story is your story…at least, from the start…

Tonight I want tell you…no, even better – show you what it means to be a kid from Albion. And before you leave, I want you to understand that you are not, and will never be, alone in the world.

I was born and raised in Albion. I started kindergarten with Mrs. Linda Kerr. On the first day of school, I bounced into her classroom and paid her a compliment. “I said, Hiya, Teach! I’m Marsha. I like your sweater!” She told on me – that is, she told my parents what a sweet kid I was, and do you know what that did? Reinforced the power of positivity. I found out early in life that saying nice stuff to people makes an impression, and more important – it makes ’em feel good.

So, 30 years later, who do you think remembered me when I walked into her fourth grade classroom as the mother of one of her students in her final year before retirement? Mrs. Kerr! I confess, at first, I was a little concerned about that pre-retirement factor. I thought maybe this seasoned educator would be anxious to finish up and just outta there. But I was wrong. Mrs. Kerr loved teaching and it showed – my daughter had her best year yet.

Fast forward a few years and I meet Mrs. Elma Sanford, who was my fifth grade teacher the last year before she retired. And I had my best year yet. She was a spunky, creative, passionate woman who asked a lot of us kids and poured her considerable talents into our success. My favorite recollection of fifth grade was hearing Mrs. Sanford read aloud to us the classic children’s book Charlotte’s Web – in all the characters’ voices, of course.

After 5th grade ended, I received notes every now and then from Mrs. Sanford – always encouraging, beautifully handwritten. She attended my wedding in 1996 and gave me a Lennox crystal vase and a sterling silver spoon. I cherish those gifts, but even more, I cherished her. I kept in touch with Mrs. Sanford over the years, and one December I sent her, in the same envelope, a Christmas card and a birth announcement, straight from Lakeside Hospital in Brockport, where Tom and I had just welcomed our third child. A few days before Christmas, I received another handwritten note from Mrs. Sanford, congratulating me on my daughter’s birth and wishing me and my family a beautiful Christmas together. Two days later, Mrs. Sanford died – what a gift to have her blessing one last time. She was a remarkable woman. Thank you, Julie, for being here tonight to represent her.

Mrs. Betty Sue Miller became my teacher the year after Mrs. Sanford. Mrs. Miller enlightened my young soul to the reality that grownups were not just grownups – they’re people, too. Betty Sue became my friend. And she has stayed my friend. But first, she became my employer, hiring me to babysit her kids. And then, she became my book advisor – every time we ran into each other at the grocery store or local diner, Betty Sue would suggest some good reads to me. Now that we’re both adults, she’s still my friend… and she also has become my fiercest online Scrabble opponent. I love beating her at the game of words. But I love it even more that she is beating breast cancer this year, and I consider myself so lucky to have her in my life.

Mrs. Karen Sodoma became my friend in a different way as my 7th grade math teacher: She taught me tough love! Behind her sweet smile and pleasant demeanor, this lady was determined to convince me and my classmates that yes, letters could mix with numbers and we could… and would… grasp the foundational concepts of algebra. She did this systematically – every day, homework went in the upper right-hand corner of the desk, classwork on the left – and she did it matter-of-factly. If you got below a certain grade on that week’s math quiz, Mrs. Sodoma didn’t ask if you’d like to come for extra help, she simply sent a pass to the cafeteria and expected you to bring your tray right down to her room. Those passes, which I received on numerous occasions, weren’t just insistent invitations to dine with common denominators – they turned out to be my tickets to survival of the SAT. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say this right-brained future editor ever befriended integers, but at least we became polite acquaintances – familiar enough to shake hands in Algebra, Geometry and even Trig. Much more than math, I learned from Mrs. Sodoma that mind over matter can help you overcome even the hardest of circumstances – and many of you know by now that algebra is a cakewalk compared to some of the stuff life throws at you. And, above all, keep smiling!

A familiar smile – and voice – to many of you is Mr. Gary Simboli, who has been part of my life even longer than he probably realizes. I was the small child sneaking cookies and lingering by the punch bowl during piano recitals he gave at Miss DiGuilio’s house back when he was in high school. I have heard him complain, in subsequent years, that my older sister Brenda, as a second grader, upstaged his memorized rendition of “The Hallelujah Chorus” with her own self-composed piece, “The Butterfly.” It turns out that, as fabulous a performer as Gary Simboli is in his own right, he’s equally, if not even more talented, at bringing out the best in others. Under his direction, as a performer in the Albion high school musicals, I learned that thorough preparation pays off and that being true to yourself and honest with an audience improves not only your performance, but also your life. When I think about alllll the students – thousands of them – who are learning these same lessons from Gary, including my own daughter, I breathe a little easier about the place the world is becoming.

Last but certainly not least, Mr. Ron Sodoma who, with his wife, Karen, traveled here from their home in Pennsylvania to be here tonight, might be just a name on a school to many of you seniors (and I’m so glad I get to introduce you to him tonight)… But to me, he’s the guy who gave me my first job after high school graduation. Actually, it was at high school graduation – maybe a half-hour after the ceremony – that Mr. Sodoma asked if I had lined up a summer job yet. I hadn’t, so he invited me to work at the District Office. Not only did I master the near-constant running of a massive copy machine, but I got a real kick out of it when Superintendent Sodoma signed his sticky note copy requests to me, “Ron.” Being asked to serve in the ACS District Office was a huge vote of confidence for me and helped prepare me for bigger responsibilities down the road.

These are just a few representative people who invested in me as a young person growing up in Albion. But this story is not just about me – it’s about you. Look around your table, look around the room. No really, look around! You also have what the Scriptures call “a cloud of witnesses” – people who have gone ahead of you, who have helped you learn and grow, who deeply care about your success in life. I realize “success” means different things to different people. Let’s just say that these people – your family, your friends, your community – including some people you’ve never met – care about your well-being. We’re rooting for you! And always will be.

When they asked me to come speak, the Albion Board of Education wanted to know: “Why do you live the way you live? Why do you do so much volunteer work? What motivates your service to the community?” And I didn’t have these people physically with me, but they are the answer. Others have invested in me; I want to do my part to help others. No matter where you end up in life or what you end up doing for work, the people will matter most.

In my church, we have a song that goes: “I have been blessed, now I want to be a blessing. I have been loved, now I want to bring love.” Class of 2014: I hope you know you’re loved tonight. I hope you know that love will stick with you, through good times and bad. These people, this community, is part of you – even these perfect strangers. To end, I bring greetings from some fellow Purple Eagles living in different parts of the country and around the world. I join them in saying: Congratulations, Class of 2014!


Christina Speranza – congratulations from Maryland


Seph McKenna – congratulations from Australia



Jennifer Deskins – congratulations from Washington, DC


Michael Babbitt – congratulations from Korea


Stephanie Finney – congratulations from London


Christopher Wisner – congratulations from Napa Valley


David Restivo – congratulations from Yellowstone National Park

Many thanks go out to Marsha Rivers for sharing this inspiring and thoughtful speech with us.

Posted by Kim Wright Pritt

Written by Marsha Bolton Rivers

Submitted photos