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High School Janitors Will Slip Into Suits For Commencement Speeches

June 2, 1991 GMT

WOLFEBORO, N.H. (AP) _ Bob Rivera and Peter Yates may be the only commencement speakers in history who have to clean up after the ceremony.

After all, graduation day is a working day for the janitors at Kingswood Regional High School.

The senior class in this summer resort town passed over traditional speakers in favor of their big-hearted, prank-pulling custodians.

″If they see someone in a bad mood, they’ll pull them aside and ask what’s wrong,″ said Shannon Stickney, the class president. ″They probably can name every kid in the school,″ which has 630 students.


Rivera, 36, and Yates, 33, said they were honored.

″It’s nice to know they don’t just think of us as janitors,″ Rivera said. ″We feel more like caretakers here. I feel really special right now.″

″It’s a step up for janitors,″ echoed Yates.

And they were unfazed by the logistics.

″On our break, we’ll change into our suits,″ Rivera said. After their brief speeches, they’ll jump back into their dungarees, ready for two or three hours of cleanup after the ceremony.

Principal Brian Berkowitz said he wasn’t surprised the custodians were selected for the June 15 commencement because students at the school have always been slightly off-center.

At last year’s graduation, each senior handed Berkowitz a marble as he doled out diplomas and the last student handed him a jar ″so I wouldn’t lose all my marbles.″

Stickney acknowledged that some of the 130 seniors at first didn’t like the idea of custodians speaking at their graduation.

″That feeling has changed,″ he said. ″Now, they’re looking at the person, beyond the name tag.″

Senior class adviser Tresa Livernois said she hasn’t heard any complaints about the selection.

When told they were picked, ″at first I was a little skeptical,″ Rivera said. ″We play so many jokes on people around here I didn’t know if it was serious.″

The two have tied down a guidance counselor’s desk outside his office and thrown water balloons at students after an honors ceremony. The assistant principal once drove away unknowingly with one of their signs on the back of his car: ″Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me.″

″There’s a saying around here that we’ve spent more time in the principal’s office than the kids,″ Rivera said.

Both plan to deliver serious speeches, but they kept the contents secret, except to say they’ll follow the graduation theme, ″A time to be remembered.″

Rivera, who comes from Boston and lives in Tuftonboro, writes a humorous column, ″Custodial Corner,″ for the school newspaper.

Yates, a Buffalo, N.Y., native who lives in New Durham, said he’s ″a little nervous.″ Rivera’s main concern is ″being too emotional.″ Yates arrived at the school four years ago, the year before Rivera.

Rivera and Yates have been getting public speaking pointers from the English Department.

On June 14, the day before graduation and after students leave for the day, the two plan a private dress rehearsal. But they first have to set up the stage, put up the rope barriers, clean the field and make sure electrical equipment works for commencement.

Yates plans to speak for about three minutes and Rivera about 10. Neither Yates, Rivera nor Berkowitz could remember who spoke at their high school commencements.

″I just remember he spoke too long,″ Yates said.