By Rick Miller

Fifty-two Cattaraugus County seniors were honored Monday night at the 17th annual Cattaraugus County Youth Bureau Youth Citizenship Awards Banquet at the Holiday Valley Lodge.

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the guest speaker, congratulated them.

“Investing in our young people pays off in many ways,” he said. “You give us great hope for the future.”

County Youth Bureau Director Anthony Evans agreed.

“The reason you are here is your community service — giving it back and paying it forward,” he told the recipients. “Spending on youth programs should not be seen as a cost, but an investment.”

The recipients and their parents or other family members sat at tables, many with county legislators or other county officials. Each senior rose to introduce themselves and their parents and tell the group where they planned to attend college after high school graduation.

DiNapoli congratulated Youth Bureau officials for 17 years of recognizing youth citizenship, and each of the recipients as well, for their community service.

“A community-minded citizenry,” DiNapoli said. “We need it more than ever. With your volunteer effort you each have made your community stronger in your way.”

In the 18 years since their birth, DiNapoli said, the seniors have lived through 9-11, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and many other technological innovations from laptop computers to smartphones.

“Imagine what the next 18 years will bring,” he said.

He also encouraged them to be flexible with their plans for the future. He cited his own experience of being elected to the Mineola Board of Education on Long Island at age 18 while still a senior in high school. That was in 1972. He spent 10 years on the school board.

“If you think you know what you will be doing in 10 years, you’re probably wrong.”

DiNapoli said the students would experience “a series of unexpected turns,” but to always do what’s right, speak up and to fight for their ideals — “especially when you feel like you are walking alone.”

The comptroller also advised the students to listen. He said the breakdown in social discourse is an obstacle.

“We can’t survive it without open and constructive dialogue,” he said.

His last advice to the students was to be generous, help others and stay connected.

“Be that ripple of hope and enjoy the curve balls life will throw you in the years to come. This is just the beginning,” he said.