Graduations

Mount Sinai hosted its graduation June 28. Mount Sinai valedictorian Isaac Kisten and salutatorian Kenneth Wei both spoke at the ceremony.

All photos by Bob Savage.

In Port Jefferson, graduates shared in the late June celebrations, braving the heat and humidity June 28 to grab their diplomas.

As the outgoing superintendent, Casciano thanked his colleagues as he prepared to leave the district in October in order to aid the new superintendent Jessica Schmettan.

“The class of 2019 will really be missed,” he said. “Everything you have done has been a demonstration of commitment and the pursuit of excellence.”

In addition, the Berger family received an honorary diploma in honor of their son Dylan, who died in 2016.

Reid Biondo, the Student Organization president, who will soon be attending the University of Virginia for economics and science, told his fellow graduating seniors they would need to look to themselves and their values as they move away from school.

“I don’t need to tell everyone the values they already know, I only ask that in the upcoming years they uphold their values with dedication and action,” he said. “Everyone can talk, but few will act.”

On June 29, Centereach High School held its 2019 commencement ceremony under sunny skies.
The Centereach Fire Department was on hand for the presentation of colors, while Faiza Syed delivered the valedictorian speech and Samantha Cotes the salutatory address.

Shoreham-Wading River graduating seniors celebrated commencement June 28 under the cloud of the recent death of Melissa Marchese, a high school senior and softball star athlete who was killed in a car crash only a few weeks before graduation.

Heather Marchese, Melissa’s sister, accepted her diploma on her sister’s behalf.

Remarks were made by valedictorian Mahdi Rashidzada and salutatorian Katlynn McGivney.

Rocky Point hosted its commencement ceremony June 28. Photo by David Luces

Rocky Point hosted its graduation ceremony June 28 where graduating seniors braved an early summer heat wave to get their diplomas.

All Photos by David Luces

Miller Place seniors accepted their diplomas away from home June 26, with the commencement ceremony instead hosted at Stony Brook University.

All photos by Bill Landon.

There was much finality to this year’s school graduations at Comsewogue school district. As high school seniors got ready to leave for new horizons, superintendents Joe Rella will soon be leaving his position. 

At Comsewogue High School, as the evening sun crept toward the horizon June 26

, blocking in the football field with the cooling shade of trees, as the students were graduating so was Rella, or at least that is how he said he saw it.

Rella was in for his own surprise, as he was brought on stage alongside incoming superintendent Jennifer Quinn and members of the school board. In front of the stage, graduates held up a sign reading Dr. Joseph V. Rella Performing Arts Center. Quinn announced the high school auditorium would now be sporting Rella’s name.

“Clearly you’re a lot smarter than I am. It took you four years to graduate high school, it took me almost 26,” Rella said, speaking to the students with a 2019 tassel on his hat. “Remember, wherever you go and whatever you do, you will always be one of us.”

Steven Nielsen, who lost his 17-year-old son James from a rare form of cancer a little less than a year ago, spoke to the graduating class about his son and what values he could share even after his untimely death.

“I think James is a good inspiration of how to live,” he said. “He was an amazing person, he was smart, he was handsome, he was extremely kind and unbelievably empathetic. Remember that, be kind, use that as an example. Think of other people in everything that you do.” 

Underneath each of the graduates’ chairs, stuck into the rough metal seats, was a Pokémon card. These, Nielsen said, were there to represent each of them had the opportunity to “evolve.”

He and his wife Jean, both teachers in the Comsewogue School District, accepted a diploma in honor of their son, with Steven Nielsen holding the cap and gown his son would have worn to graduation.

To cap off Comsewogue’s graduation ceremony, as the scenery got dark, fireworks rose above the trees of a distant field, and all the newly graduated students stared up at the sky. Unknown to high school principal Joe Coniglione, the field lights would take several minutes to warm up, and so the graduates cheered in the dark, hats flying through the air like tasseled stars.

The cars lined up along the drive to Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, and besides the sounds of running motors, the graduating seniors could express nothing but awe. The entire front face of the high school was dressed in a shawl of ’90s and early 2000s nostalgia. Above the entrance, dressed on a large orange blimp calling back to the classic Nickelodeon channel logo, was a sign reading Royalodeon. 

The parents of the Port Jeff graduates and members of the prom committee spent hour upon hour of their own time to help construct the pieces to the prom in the months leading up to graduation, and the entire final construction, bringing it to the high school, was done over the previous weekend.

Port Jefferson residents got to experience their efforts the evening of July 1, before the students saw it for the first time. Inside was a splattering of ’90s cartoons, from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” to “The Wild Thornberrys” to “Rugrats,” and the entire dining area designed around “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Lanterns were dressed like jellyfish, hanging from the gym ceiling, and to one side a fully stocked glass case filled with candy was accompanied by cardboard stands of the characters from “Drake & Josh.”

Students arrived awed, not only by the design of the prom but also the number of parents who came to watch their kids walk the red carpet. Kids came ferried in sports cars, but some came in more outlandish style, arriving via boat, the Port Jefferson Jitney, a Qwik Rides Car and even a rickshaw.

By Leah Chiappino

Carly Tamer and Deniz Sinar have earned the title of Academic Leaders at Commack High School, which is given to the two students with the highest weighted GPA upon the completion of high school.

Tamer finished with a 105.04 GPA, earning her a spot at Northeastern University

as a Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry major. She has aspirations to work in research “with a focus on antibiotic resistance.”  This stems from  her experience working as a research assistant with Dr. Nathan Rigel at Hofstra University, where she studied protein tracking in gram negative bacteria.

She was involved in the National, Science, and Spanish honor societies, and was the Vice President of the Math Honor Society at Commack. She was also a leader for  CTeen, an international Jewish youth organization, where she took part in volunteer work, and represented the organization at conventions. She also made time for her passion of the arts, as she danced all throughout high school and even worked a professional acting job when she earned the lead role in the First Daughter Suite at the Public Theatre in Manhattan in 2015. She plans to continue performing and acting in college.

Tamer thanked her family and teachers for getting her to where she is, “I attribute much of my success to my incredibly supportive family who was there for me through both the rough times and the exciting times during my educational career,” she said. “Without their love and encouragement, I would not have achieved this amazing honor. Teachers, such as Mr. Pope, who taught IB HL Math and Dr. O’Brien, who taught IB Chemistry, inspired my thirst for knowledge and desire to aim high.”

She cited her favorite Commack memory as “the day before winter break, where my math class and I went around the school to different classrooms singing “Calculus Carols.

“We changed the lyrics of classic holiday songs to fit our calculus theme and everyone around the school looked forward to hearing us sing,” she said. “It was the perfect blend of both of my passions, and I will never forget how fun it was.”

Sinar graduated with a104.57 weighted GPA, and will attend Cornell in the fall  as a biological engineering major, with hopes of eventually earning a doctorate degree and being the

principal investigator of her own research lab.

At Commack, she was involved in the National, Italian, Tri-M Music, and Science Honor Societies, and was the secretary of the Math Honor Society and Varsity Math Team. Sinar raised money for Long Island Against Domestic Violence and volunteered to visit nursing home residents through Commack’s Glamour Gals Club. She was also a member of the Chamber Orchestra for three years and took part in Future American String Teachers Association Club, Pathways Freshman Art and Literary Magazine.

She is the winner of several awards including a National Merit Scholarship, the President’s Award for Educational Excellence, New York American Chemical Society High School Award, Excellence in Italian Award, Science Department Senior Award, Suffolk County Math Teachers’ Association Course Contest third place school-wide, American Association of Teacher of Italian National Exam Gold Medal Level 5, American Association of Teacher of Italian Poetry Contest Silver Medal Level 4, New York Seal of Biliteracy, and the WAC Lighting Foundation Invitational Science Fair third place in General Biology.

She cites her participation in the American Association of Teacher of Italian Poetry Contest as her favorite high school memory, because it was so unlike anything she had ever done before, and it required “a lot of determination,” as she had to memorize the poem in Italian and “dramatize” it in front of judges. “When I received the second-place award, I had a moment when I truly felt like I was almost fluent in the Italian language since I actually recited a renowned poem, understood every single word, and crafted an emotional performance that impressed the judges,” she stated.

Sinar developed a love of science through her participation in the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Partners for the Future Program, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory DNA Science camp, Science Olympiad, the Hofstra University Summer Science Research Program, and the Columbia University Science Honors Program. “These activities have allowed me to navigate many different science topics, which led me to realize the ones that I am most passionate about,” she stated.

Sinar commended her parents for her success and thanked them for “being so supportive no matter what I did and always pushing me to do my best.”

As far as advice for next year’s seniors, Sinar advises them to “stay focused throughout the year but be aware of when you need to relax and set your work aside. You will be dealing with a lot of work at once, so managing responsibilities and allotting time to de-stress is as important as actually working.”

 

 

 

Teacher Brooke Bonomi holds a prize a student won during a halftime Simon Says game at the Feb. 8 Basketball game fundraiser. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Rich Acritelli

“America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”

Brooke Bonomi, right, during his run from Montreal, Canada, to Hudson, New York. Photo from Rich Acritelli

These words of service, which were spoken  by the late President George H.W. Bush, are the lifelong giving code of Brooke R. Bonomi. He is a social studies teacher, coach and adviser who after 33 years in education will be retiring from Rocky Point High School. This distinguished educator has devoted his entire life to carrying out local and national tasks toward the betterment of his own home community and that of this North Shore school district.

Bonomi’s story began many years ago as a native of Woodside, Queens, who had moved to Syosset when he was 8 years old. This 57-year-old teacher vividly recalled a happy home life that saw his father work as a New York City firefighter and his mom was a housewife who cared for their three children. With a big smile, Bonomi laughs at his memories of playing endless hours of manhunt, competing through soccer and lacrosse and running many miles through the hills of eastern Nassau County and western Suffolk County. Running was a strong fit for Bonomi, who excelled at this sport in college and later ran the Montauk and Long Island marathons.

As a capable student-athlete, Bonomi was also the senior class president for Syosset High School. Always armed with a big smile and a unique personality, he created a contest among the student body titled “Why I Want to Go to the Prom with Brooke Bonomi.” As he mentioned this memory, Bonomi laughed and explained some of his fellow peers perceived this event as being pathetic, while he always saw it as a genius way to garner support for a school function. During his senior year, Bonomi was a three-sport athlete who was recruited by Johns Hopkins, University at Albany and Boston University to play soccer. To make life economically easier for his father, Bonomi received an appointment to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.  

In 1980, this native of Syosset entered the service where he planned to earn a military education with the chance of playing soccer. While he made it through basic training and conducted sea operation on the Eagle, this military institution was not a good choice for Bonomi. Although he liked being in uniform and the camaraderie of the military, he struggled with his grades and the rigidness of this school, and he was honorably discharged after his first year. In 1981, Bonomi returned home and made plans to enter SUNY Oneonta, where he later majored in political science and speech communication.  

It was at this school that Bonomi flourished with his own independence and creativity. Always a fan of music and performances, he and his friends established the Wondering Winter Wonder Men. This group sang two Christmas songs for a $1 to provide holiday cheer to the students while raising money for charity. Bonomi was also the captain of the cross-country team where he distinguished himself. With his friends, he ran the grueling length from Oneonta to Fire Island and from Montreal, Canada, to Hudson, New York, which was located just south of Albany. During these exhausting journey’s, he traveled a long way on foot and when he needed to rest, Bonomi slept on the lawns of people’s houses. With his witty sense of humor, he was also the disc jockey for the university radio station, worked at a local restaurant, was a resident’s assistant within the student dorms and delivered furniture. This was a golden time for Bonomi as he played sports, ran, worked various jobs and established his own sense of free will he would later use as an educator. Always an avid reader and analyst of history and political science, Bonomi appreciated both his liberal and conservative professors who allowed him to freely present his own views on these subjects. While Bonomi is a free spirit that is often pulled in many directions, he has an agile mind which has allowed him to fully express knowledgeable beliefs on many historical and political topics of discussion.

Brooke Bonomi, left, during a Live Like Susie event. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Once he graduated college in 1985, Bonomi believed that he was going to enter the Peace Corps. It was not until he went home to Syosset that a local neighbor and New York City social studies teacher expressed to Bonomi that he should enter education. Again, Bonomi went back to Oneonta and was enrolled in the education program to enter a field that would become his life’s work. Bonomi learned that there were positions opening up at Longwood Central School District. When he was looking at a map to locate Middle Island, he noticed that Rocky Point was not too far from this district. This Nassau County man learned of Rocky Point through a shirt that his friend wore about this town and school.

In 1986, Bonomi walked into the main office of the Rocky Point High School and ran into longtime teacher, administrator and coach, Michael P. Bowler. This former assistant principal was leaving teaching as a social studies teacher and entering administration. Bowler was the first person that Bonomi met in this entire district and he recollected, “It was in a way serendipitous that Brooke walked into the office that day because we needed to hire a teacher to replace me. I spoke to Brooke for quite some time and I could see that he was full of positive energy and enthusiasm and grounded in a deeply rooted value system … I just had a feeling that he would make a great addition to our school and community. The rest is history.”

Unlike the urban areas of Syosset, Bonomi enjoyed the rural feeling of Rocky Point, dominated as it was by the beauty of the conservation preserve located behind the high school. Bonomi was always known for his enthusiasm, but he was a little hesitant to be involved in different activities. Dan Galvin, the principal of the high school, wanted him to start coaching. At first, Bonomi refused to do so, as he wanted to allocate enough time toward lesson planning for the rigors of his new assignment as a seventh-grade American history teacher. He was originally at the crossroads of the high school, as he was one of the youngest employees to be hired at a time when there were few jobs in this market. Right away he showcased his unique teaching strategies, showing numerous film clips tied to his teaching content, writing songs like “Born an Iroquois,” and even teaching about the brutal cold weather that Continental soldiers had to endure at Valley Forge by standing in a bucket of ice.

As he became more comfortable with his instructional routines, Bonomi coached junior high lacrosse. Since 1986, Bowler and Bonomi have had a tight bond that saw them mold students through education and athletics. As a athlete, Bonomi coached girls junior high, junior varsity and varsity soccer. He ran with his players and personified a can-do attitude through times of both victory and defeat. At a low point during one game, the parents of his own players were openly criticizing their soccer abilities. As the girls were competing, he walked over to the parents and told them to lay off their own kids, as they were doing their best, during a difficult time. This action cemented a trademark of loyalty that Bonomi always presented to his students and athletes that he instructed.  

In 1988, Bonomi brought his musical talents to the students of Rocky Point through his well-known organization of the Singing Santas. This group originally presented musical holiday spirit to the nursing homes, soup kitchens and local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts. Three years later, Galvin expressed to Bonomi that while he was doing an outstanding job outside of the school, there were parents who wanted him to sing for the student body. This began the legacy of a club that spanned from 1988 to 2016. He started the process of creating Christmas skits, playing song parodies that resembled the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen, the Blues Brothers, Bon Jovi, Green Day and Dave Mathews. Bonomi took many artistic chances over the years that ended up making this club into a dynamic legacy.  

This success did not happen overnight, but through the combined determination of himself, the students and staff. Over several decades, Bonomi always promoted colorful skits, the Artic Horns and choirs of students who sang and danced to songs written by Bonomi. Social studies teacher Chris Nentwich was a key member of the Singing Santas who could be counted on to perform any type of acting role. He portrayed Jack Nicholas as Colonel Nathan R. Jessup from the film “A Few Good Men.” This satire was written by Scott Lindsay and the main part of “Colonel Ketchup” was acted by Nentwich, with support from Anthony Nobre, Sherin Shanahan and Andrew Aschettino. Through the colorful words of Lyndsay, he created a unique mini-play that saw the drama of “A Few Good Men,” with the humor of “My Cousin Vinny” through a comedic court room performance that saw Santa Claus put on trial. These were the traits of the Bonomi creed that saw both teachers and students working together to bring an unusual notion come to life. These performances gained the approval of a cheering auditorium. 

A key figure in the Bonomi story is fellow social studies teacher James McCormack. This educator never turned down any type of request by Bonomi for this Christmas production. His favorite part of the Singing Santas was the “Benny Hill” chase scene between Santa Claus and the Grinch. Like that of Nentwich, McCormack was a main figure during these shows and he fully believed that, “There were a million moving pieces and a lot that could have gone wrong, but that old Bonomi magic kicked in and it all worked flawlessly,” McCormack recalled. “That is what Singing Santa’s was — a symphony of controlled chaos with Brooke as the maestro. It was always a joyous experience.”

At the final show for the Singing Santas in 2016, the school was filled with students and their family members that had traveled near and far to thank Bonomi for the countless hours that he spent presenting this enormous pageant. Next to Bonomi was the musical talents of Michael Conlon, a guidance counselor who had been a member of several bands since his youth in Sayville. While Bonomi showed his genius through being an off the cuff individual, Conlon personified a balance in music to personally sing songs. They immediately connected, and Conlon stated, “The memories that I have of the Singing Santas experience will forever bring a smile to my face as it did so many students over the last twenty-five years to perform in many different venues.”  

Joseph A. Cognitore, the commander of Post 6249 Rocky Point Veterans of Foreign Wars, always requested the help of the Santas to play for their annual holiday party. Cognitore was always amazed at the role of the students and he expressed that “Bonomi was a constant fixture to bring smiles to all of the people, especially the children that watched these shows. Over the years, he never hesitated to help veterans that were struggling at home or were serving overseas in combat areas.”

Another activity and immense pride for the school that Bonomi led over the last several years was the Be a Nicer Neighbor Club. This organization was originally established from a lesson on the Progressive Era, which Bonomi taught on the need for people to be respectful to each other. Bonomi credited Galvin for promoting the charter beliefs of this group and Principal Bill Caulfied for making it into a reality by formerly making it into a yearly club. 

In the early morning hours, Bonomi and the students cooked breakfast for the staff members, they made food for the homeless and school bus drivers. During the colder months, his students organized food and clothing drives and in the spring they conducted car washes. He helped build two 9/11 memorials placed in front of the school to remember the four lost graduates from Rocky Point. Just recently, he presided over Live Like Susie event to recall the positive joy of Susie Facini and to honor those current students that presented her values of kindness and devotion to the school. For many years, he ran the Senior Citizen Prom for the older residents of the North Shore. Bonomi had the students dress up as waiters, they played music and even ran the Pete Rose casino. He has taken students numerous times to Broadway shows and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge and to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in New York City.

There has been countless whiffle ball games, square dances, chess matches, after-school films and meetings where he presented his most recent plans to aid society and the nation. Always next to him were staff members where Bonomi is seen exhibiting a dynamic sense of camaraderie. He showcased this through efforts to help the misfortunate in Hubner’s Homeless Helpers. Social worker Jennifer Zaffino has been at pivotal friend at Bonomi’s side for years to promote these social and economic programs. Zaffino, with a immense smile, wanted to thank Bonomi for the “many beautiful, behind-the-scene stories of what comes of most of the fundraised money.” The money is allocated to an account for students in need and has been utilized to help adolescents who experience financial hardship.  “This is a small, but perfect example of how impactful Brooke’s ‘work’ has been for our students and their families,” she said.

And the culmination of his many projects was supremely demonstrated this past winter through the Wounded Warrior Basketball Game. The expertise that Bonomi showed was a colossal effort in creating four teams of players comprised of administrators, teachers, aides, security guards and groundskeepers. It was a student-centered game, as they were the coaches who made draft picks and trades through commentated announcements by Athletic Director Charlie Delargey. This event completely packed the gym, had a massive raffle, Simon Says for the children, shirts that were thrown to crowd and left many people wondering how Bonomi was able to make this event into a massive success. Bowler has watched these ongoing achievements by Bonomi and he stressed that this teacher “has always taught the students around him the value and the importance of reaching out and helping others through community service, and he did it in a way that made it fun for them.”

But while Bonomi has had the support of teachers, staff members and students, none of these vital programs would have been made possible without the loving support of his family. He credits the confidence that he received from the loving support of his wife, Eileen, who has stood by him during every activity. She has been the constant source of encouragement and the main cog of the family to completely guide this household. Bonomi, who is immensely busy, is always known to have stated, “that while it is important to help others, your greatest impact will be on your own children.” As a proud and devoted man to his family, he has utter happiness when looking at his children who are all now young adults.  

Bonomi with his family. Photo from Rich Acritelli

Currently, his son Colin graduated from Scranton University and is employed at a finance firm. His older boy Ryan excelled at his studies at Providence University and now is enrolled in law school where he is working with the Justice Department in Boston, Massachusetts. Lauren, his youngest child, is studying to be a physician’s assistant at Villanova University. Ever the sports fan, Bonomi watches Villanova’s basketball games and likes going to the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. He loved traveling to Woodloch Pines Resort in Pennsylvania and accompanying his wife and children to see the Zac Brown Band at Citi Field. With his family, Brooke has been supportive of his church, where he has organized youth groups, sang at holiday events and sold Christmas trees. While Bonomi brushes aside any personal acknowledgments that praise his talents as a teacher, he has been recognized several times as an educator of the year through different organizations and his church and home town has publicly thanked him for being such a selfless individual. 

As it has not yet hit many of us how hard the loss of Bonomi will be for the high school in September, it will be noticeable not to hear his keys jingling, the sight of him giving out raffle tickets for his Friday raffle and his contagious laughter. One thing is for certain, that many of the senior staff members will have to do more to ensure that the traditions that this educator created over the last several decades are continued from one year to the next for the students of Rocky Point High School.

Well, Bonomi will not be in the school for this upcoming year, but his presence will always be felt by the many lives of the staff and students that he has touched since 1986. You can believe that Bonomi will continue to stay active with his family and will continue doing all that he can do on a daily basis to help his fellow citizens in every possible way. Thank you to Brooke R. Bonomi for making the North Shore into a better place.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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