Graduations

East Northport resident awarded an honorary degree from Smithtown High School West June 21

A lifelong dream has been made a reality for a Holocaust survivor who, after nearly 30 years educating others, can finally say he’s received his high school diploma.

East Northport resident Mordechai Miller was given an honorary degree at the 103rd commencement of Smithtown High School West June 21, becoming a member of the graduating Class of 2018. The 87-year-old donned a blue cap and gown, sitting with his fellow graduates on the field to wait to hear his name called by Principal John Coady.

“It’s very exciting,” Miller said upon hearing he was being granted a diploma.

The moment was decades in the making for Miller.

Everything he’s wanted in life he’s been able to achieve, except for this.”
– Leah Miller

“Everything he’s wanted in life he’s been able to achieve, except for this,” said his daughter, Leah. “He’s really wanted this for a long time, but it’s not something you can ask for.”

Miller was born in the village of Jablonna, Poland, in 1931. Due to the outbreak of World War II, he was only able to complete first grade before he and his family were forced to live in a Jewish ghetto before eventually going into hiding. They were liberated from the war front town, where they had taken up work as Polish refugees, by the Soviet army in January 1945.

Miller moved to the United States in 1956 where he settled in Brooklyn. A self-motivated man, he started his own business selling used truck parts and eventually opened his own junkyard in Bay Shore after moving to East Northport in 1984.

Since the 1990s, Miller has shared his life story as a public motivational speaker at hundreds of events, according to his daughter. For the past 10 years, he has regularly been a guest speaker in Christina Cone’s Holocaust and Genocide class at Smithtown High School West.

We thank you for all your work with our students, sharing your experiences and congratulate you on receiving your diploma.”
– John Coady

“He will always start out by saying that he loves to come to school because he didn’t get a chance at an education,” his daughter said.

The Holocaust survivor’s goal in sharing his life and experiences with students each year is to increase tolerance in the world. To honor Miller’s message of doing right by others, Smithtown’s staff decided to confer upon him an honorary degree.

“As he was deprived of a formal education and was never awarded a high school diploma, it is our privilege to bestow upon him this long-awaited document,” the principal said. “We thank you for all your work with our students, sharing your experiences and congratulate you on receiving your diploma.

Miller was given a standing ovation by the students, parents and Smithtown faculty at the June 21 ceremony as he walked across the stage and accepted his degree.

“He has always wanted this opportunity, and tonight they have made his dream come true,” his daughter said.

While the school district has given out honorary diplomas before, Miller was the first be allowed to walk in the ceremony.

Centereach High School seniors leapt up from their seats and tossed their caps in a sea of confetti to celebrate the end of their commencement day ceremony June 24.

Even though rain had delayed the festivities, Centereach seniors couldn’t find reason not to smile as they walked across the field and onto the stage to accept their diplomas celebrating the completion of 12 years of hard work and dedication.

The Cougars’ class of 2018 valedictorian Anthony Roman and salutatorian Olivia Zhu bid farewell to their classmates after sharing stories and words of encouragement and triumph.

Ward Melville High School’s class of 2018 had a storybook ending to their days in the Three Village Central School District June 21.

This year the prom theme was Once Upon a Time. As the students entered the school, they found the building was decorated like scenes from various fairytales including Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

Students arrived at the prom in classic and luxury model cars. Three Village Kids Lemonade Stand founder Maddie Mastriano pulled up in a horse and carriage with trumpeters playing.

Parents and friends waited on bleachers since the morning to see the students stroll down the red carpet before the big event, which was livestreamed and posted to YouTube.

Newfield High School seniors may have had to make one last change in their schedules, but weren’t going to let a little rain dampen their mood when they took to the football field for their graduation day ceremony June 24.

Although postponed a day, parents came out in droves to cheer on the class of 2018, watching the seniors collect flowers and stop to pose for pictures after receiving their diplomas. Valedictorian Logan Ortiz and salutatorian Diogo Martins addressed the crowd for the final time as classmates.

Students also sang and showed off decorated caps before tossing them in the air in celebration of a milestone achievement.

Harborfields High School’s Class of 2018 didn’t let a little rain put a damper on its commencement ceremony June 23.

Senior members of the high school choir performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the start of the ceremony, which was followed by words of encouragement and lessons from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Francesco Ianni. He spoke to the graduates about the importance of time and to have character and determination in everything that you do.

Salutatorian Sarah Katz also addressed her fellow graduates, calling the Class of 2018 a family and acknowledging the greatness within them.

“Sitting among this great crowd are great minds, leaders, soldiers, musicians, doctors, writers, dreamers and people who I believe can change the world or at least light the spark that does,” Katz said.

Valedictorian Emma Johnston also focused Harborfields’ being a tight-knit community and class, adding how moving to the district changed her life.

“I learned that Harborfields is truly a magical place,” Johnston said. “It is a place of support and mass synergy and it is a place where every walk of life can come together as a community to bring out the best in each other.”

Class president Christopher Burney spoke about his time in the district and wished his fellow graduates the best while encouraging them to take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way. Featured speaker Casey Sturm, English teacher, addressed the graduates while speaking about when he was in their shoes as a Harborfields High School student.

“I can’t wait to see how you change the world,” he said.

Principal Timothy Russo presented each graduate with an evergreen tree, symbolizing the foundation and roots of their support system.

“Let this be a reminder to you of Harborfields and what you’ve meant to us,” Russo said.

Before the presentation of diplomas, Russo took a special moment to honor Maggie Schmidt, a member of the Class of 2018 who passed away in June 2017 after her courageous battle with cancer. The Schmidt family was present to accept her diploma on her behalf.

By Andrea Paldy

Family and friends cheered on the more than 600 seniors who graduated in front of the Ward Melville High School clocktower on Sunday.

During the June 24 ceremony, salutatorian Michael Lu reminded his classmates to continue to open themselves to new possibilities.

“As graduates of Ward Melville High School, we can do anything we put our minds to as long as we have an appetite to learn and a willingness to take risks,” he said.

Ethan Li, the class valedictorian, encouraged his classmates to be socially aware and to enact change.

“Talent without humanity is like a violin bow which lacks resin,” he said. “It may produce practically perfect music, but the sound will never inspire.”

Ward Melville principal Alan Baum built on those words in his last commencement speech as principal.

“Change is okay,” he said. “You don’t have to be afraid.”

Baum, who will take on the role of executive director of secondary curriculum and human resources in the district office, had parting words for the class of 2018.

“Don’t let others or naysayers tell you what you can’t do,” he said. “Go out and show them what you can do.”

Mount Sinai seniors weren’t going to let any rain ruin their parade.

Despite graduation day being postponed a day due to rain, Mustangs paraded across the football field to gleefully receive their diplomas June 24, high-fiving classmates and waving to the crowd of proud parents.

Valedictorian Jonathan Yu and salutatorian Jack Pilon addressed the class of 2018 before the group turned their tassels and tossed their caps in celebration of their achievements.

Huntington’s Class of 2018 was sent off in a ceremony full of laughter, smiles and full of hope for the future.

Huntington High School held its 157th annual commencement exercises June 22 on the Blue Devil’s athletic fields as a crowd of nearly 2,000 cheered on the 340 graduates as they accepted their diplomas.

“While we have to give credit to the community that nurtured us, we also have to recognize that in some ways it shielded us from the outside world,”  Valedictorian Aidan Forbes said, who is headed to Cornell University. “It was our shell and if we are to continue to grow, we must shed it. And that process will be painful. We will leave our old friends behind, although hopefully not permanently, and be forced to find new ones. Whether you are going to college or not, we will all be faced with new, more rigorous challenges.”

The seniors were told that they will always have a home in the Huntington community and be welcome at the high school.

Months of hard work by volunteers from the Port Jefferson community finally came to fruition June 25. Earl L. Vandermeulen’s annual senior prom, featuring a secret theme selected by the Senior Prom Committee — made up of parents and others who donate their time to pulling together the event — and arrivals to a red carpet in out-of-the-ordinary rides, went off Monday night in front of hundreds from the school and surrounding community.

This year, the high school entrance, first floor hallways, bathrooms and gymnasium were decorated in a Neverland theme, an ode to the Disney classic “Peter Pan.”

Parents of members of the senior class meet throughout the school year to vote and settle on a theme, plan the theme’s implementation, and then spend the frantic weekend between graduation Friday night and prom Monday night constructing the decorations.

“There’s a lot of people, like myself, whose kids graduated quite a while ago, who showed up and worked during the week at night or on the weekend,” said John Poulianos, a member of the committee who has been pitching in to help with the event since 1999. “I think people just feel it’s such a worthwhile event that they’re willing to give their time. It is so unique.”

Though the event was the byproduct of hard work by dozens of individuals, community members were sure to recognize the efforts of Port Jeff graduate Jon Famularo on social media.

“Your dedication makes it possible to accomplish more and deliver rich and theatrical looks for the prom,” Paul Braille wrote on Facebook.

Shoreham-Wading River High School seniors were met with applause and cheers as they accepted their diplomas during the class of 2018 commencement ceremony June 23.

After the processional and National Anthem, sung by senior Jack Flatley with ASL interpretation by Victoria Ann Holden, high school Principal Frank Pugliese addressed the crowd. Opening remarks were presented by salutatorian Calvin Schmalzle and senior Alexandra Melt followed him by singing “Go the Distance” from Disney’s Hercules, before valedictorian Christian Wesselborg bid the class farewell.

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