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Graduation

School board President John Swenning honors Nicolas Robinson, Tyler Jensen, Jarrett and Jaeden Whitfield and Bernadette Reyes during graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Anthony Petriello

Applause could be heard far and wide June 21 at Comsewogue High School’s graduation ceremony.

Nicholas Robinson waves to the crowd during graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

The applause rained down from the packed bleachers on the varsity football field for all of the graduates, but for a select few there was a bit more meaning behind the cheers. Five graduates were honored for their brave decision to enter various branches of the U.S. armed forces rather than attending a traditional two- or four-year college. Twins Jarrett and Jaeden Whitfield, Bernadette Reyes, Tyler Jensen and Nicolas Robinson are the Warriors preparing to serve their country.

Comsewogue High School Principal Joseph Coniglione summed up his feelings watching the five students accept their diplomas and prepare to move on to their next steps in life.

“These students worked hard to get where they are,” he said. “They have made a commitment to this country and, without any doubt, made this community and this school very proud.”

Three out of the five students recognized will be enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, including the Whitfield twins. They are following what they called their dream, but also a dream their mother, Keira Whitfield, said she had always had but was not able to fulfill.

“They are living out my dream of joining the Air Force,” she said. “In doing so they will become independent, productive citizens of the United States and that’s all I ever wanted for them.”

Originally from Queens, and with a family background in both the Air Force and the Navy, the Whitfields are looking to brighten their futures.

“I hope to become a more disciplined person,” Jarrett said.

During graduation, the five students were called up to the stage to be honored and recognized individually. District administration knew the special ceremony was coming, but left it a surprise for the students.

Bernadette Reyes receives a certificate from school board President John Swenning during 2018 graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I was very surprised to be honored,” Jaeden said. “It didn’t feel real. It felt like a dream … having my recruiter there helped me feel more comfortable.”

Tyler Jensen is the third student who enlisted in the Air Force. He is following his grandfather’s path to the Air Police, which is an arm of the Air Force Security Forces along with the Military Police and the Security Police. As a member of the Air Police, Jensen will be working to protect the assets of the Air Force, as well as securing Air Force installations and other facilities operated by the military branch.

Jensen attributed his desire to serve his country not just to honoring his grandfather but also out of a sense of civic duty.

“I am also joining because not enough people in my generation are enlisting and there is not enough help,” he said.

Comsewogue school board president John Swenning, who led the way honoring the students during graduation, also beamed with pride referencing the graduates-turned-armed forces members.

“On behalf of the Comsewogue board of education I would like to publically thank these young men and women who have decided to serve in a branch of the United States military,” he said in a statement. “It is their selfless commitment to protect our freedom and liberty that allows the rest of us the opportunity to chase our dreams.”

Robinson enlisted in the U.S. Marines. He said he has had a desire to join the Marines since 2005, when he was only 5 years old after his brother had enlisted.

“He is my role model,” Robinson said of his brother.

Whitfield twins Jarrett and Jaeden look at a certificate with classmate Tyler Jensen during 2018 graduation. Photo by Alex Petroski

Robinson said he often thinks about the day his brother graduated from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris Island, South Carolina.

“When I saw my brother graduate from Parris Island, it gave me chills,” he said.

He is proud to have enlisted in the Marines and isn’t worried about the life change he is about to encounter.

“It’s like any other job,” he said.

Reyes is headed to the U.S. Army, also following a family trend, as her father is an Army veteran. She said she was unsure of her path after high school, but after meeting with an Army recruiter at the Bethpage Air Show at Jones Beach, she made the decision to pursue a career in the military.

Reyes said she was ecstatic to have been honored at the graduation ceremony.

“It was a great feeling to be introduced in front of the students, parents, administration and the board of education,” she said.

Reyes plans to complete basic training and continue her education through the Army.

Ibuki Iwasaki, Eli Doyle, Luke Begley, Charles Clark finish atop their classes

By Anthony Petriello

Ibuki Iwasaki. Photo by Alex Petroski

At the conclusion of the 2018 school year at Earl L. Vandermeulen and Comsewogue high schools, four graduates stood at the top of their respective classes. These extraordinarily talented students include valedictorian Ibuki Iwasaki and salutatorian Eli Doyle from Port Jeff and valedictorian Luke Begley and salutatorian Charles Clark from Comsewogue.

At Earl L. Vandermeulen, Iwasaki finished the year at the top of the class with a 101.4 cumulative grade point average. Iwasaki was president of the National Honor Society and a member of the Mathletes team, for which she competed in more than 20 competitions, and won the All-County title for the 2017-18 school year.

“I am self-motivated,” she said of her academic drive. “My mother trusts me to seek out challenges.”

She attributed her success to her natural curiosity.

“I like to learn and try out new things whenever I can,” she said.

Eli Doyle. Photo by Alex Petroski

Iwasaki was also a member of the Science Olympiad team, where she was a first-place and third-place winner in various competitions. The team travels to universities near and far to compete against other high schools in a sports-style science tournament sponsored by organizations like NASA, Lockheed Martin and the United States Air Force. Iwasaki had also been a player on the varsity tennis team since eighth grade and was undefeated individually in the league this year. She is a National Merit Scholarship recipient, an AP Scholar with Distinction, and had earned a perfect score for three years at Level IV NYSSMA on the violin. Iwasaki will be attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall but said she has not declared an official major.

“I want to take advantage of all the opportunities MIT has to offer,” she said.

Eli Doyle finished high school with a 100.9 GPA. Doyle said he is grateful to the high school faculty for allowing him to achieve greatness.

Luke Begley. Photo by Alex Petroski

“I appreciate the opportunity my school has given me to achieve what I have achieved,” he said.

In addition to being an exemplary student, Doyle excelled on the field as well as the stage, having played tennis since ninth grade, earning honors from the Suffolk County Junior Tennis League, and working as part of the stage crew for school plays, musicals and concerts. He also volunteered at Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket and spent his time with the residents, earning him the Presidential Volunteer Service Award. Like Iwasaki, he was also a member of the Science Olympiad squad, finishing in first place in both optics and astronomy competitions. He was a member and officer of the Student Organization for all four years of his high school career and had the opportunity to participate in the Simmons Summer Research program at Stony Brook University where he studied ferroelectric fluid, which is a type of magnetic fluid that can be used in many applications from computer hard drives to rocket fuel. Doyle will be attending Brown University this fall where he will study engineering physics.

At Comsewogue, Luke Begley was named valedictorian, finishing with a 101.5 GPA. Begley is a music-minded scholar as well as a scholar-athlete. He was a member of the NYSSMA All-State Orchestra on the double bass and played midfield on the Comsewogue varsity soccer team. He attributed his academic success to his parents and his teachers.

Charles Clark. Photo by Alex Petroski

“They always motivated me and created an environment where I could succeed, and my teachers always knew how to keep me interested and engaged,” he said.

Begley was also the president of the French National Honor Society, captain of the Academic Quiz Bowl team and an AP Scholar with Distinction during his junior year. He credited his drive to succeed to his close friends.

“We keep a good balance of competition and cooperation where we compete to be the best academically but still help each other when it is necessary,” he said.

Begley will be attending Princeton University this fall where he will be double majoring in physics and music.

Comsewogue salutatorian Charles Clark had a 101.3 GPA to wrap up his senior year. He could not be reached for comment.

Shoreham-Wading River seniors Christian Wesselborg, left, and Calvin Schmalzle, right, were named this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively. Photos from Shoreham-Wading River school district

Shoreham-Wading River’s valedictorian Christian Wesselborg and salutatorian Calvin Schmalzle both managed to achieve high marks while squeezing in a helping of extracurricular activities.

Wesselborg earned a 101.42 GPA. He is a gold medalist at the Al Kalfus Long Island Math Fair, a winner of department awards for both AP Biology and AP Statistics, was named an AP Scholar with Distinction and
was honored with a Rensselaer Medal for excellence in math and science. 

Wesselborg participated in several sports, including wrestling and winter and spring track. He was also recognized as a member of the academic All-County team as a member of the Wildcats varsity soccer team. The senior also spent his time as the robotics team captain and a member of the jazz band.

Other than school, Wesselborg participated in Relay Iowa, an adventure over 330 miles long.

After four years of high school, Wesselborg plans to attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
in Troy, where he will study biosciences.

Schmalzle finished with a 100.09 GPA. He is a National Merit Scholarship Commended Student, a Brookhaven National Laboratory High School Research Program summer intern and placed first at the Suffolk County Math Teachers Association precalculus contest.

Outside of the classroom Schmalzle was also a member of the school robotics team. After school he played volleyball and ran track and field, earning an All-American nod during winter track and to the All-County academic team during volleyball season.

In the fall Schmalzle will attend Clarkson University where he plans to study mechanical engineering and explore his passion for math and physics. He said he’s hoping to land a job in the engineering field.

“Christian and Calvin are both exceptional students who represent the well-rounded education at Shoreham-Wading River High School,” Principal Frank Pugliese said. “Their commitment to school, community and
extracurricular activities will certainly drive their future successes.”

Schmalzle said the things he would miss the most from his time in high school are his friends and family. He said other students that look to do well should do their due diligence.

“Work hard and believe in yourself,” he said.

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Hundreds of Long Island students have accepted their high school diplomas this week. We’ve sent them off into the world armed with the best advice and pearls of wisdom we have to offer. In doing so, we can’t help but hope this isn’t goodbye.

The Class of 2018 students are each pursuing his or her own version of the American Dream. What defines that dream can vary greatly — whether it’s studying medicine at Stony Brook University, learning a trade or joining the military. The question we have to ask is this: When these students are envisioning their futures, how many picture himself or herself staying on Long Island?

While parents and teachers are taking pride — and deserved pats on the back — in getting this year’s seniors through their first 12 years of schooling, it doesn’t stop there. The older generation and its leadership must continue to take action to transform Long Island into an attractive and affordable place for young adults to live.

“We spend a lot of money educating our kids here,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) acknowledged in his 2018 State of the County address. “Too many of them have left for other parts of the country, where they are helping to power their regional economies. We have to stop that.”

For the first time in two decades, there is a glimmer of hope that the brain drain trend is starting to slow. The population of people between ages 20 and 34 living in Nassau and Suffolk counties has increased by 7.6 percent from 2010 to 2015 — for the first time since 1990 — according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 Population Estimates, as stated in a June 2017 report by the Long Island Association. LIA is a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies, programs and projects that benefit Long Island and support economic development and infrastructure investments.

However, there’s still 100,000 fewer residents in the 20 to 34 age group on Long Island than in 1990. So, there’s still a ways to go in attracting and keeping bright, young professionals on Long Island.

To this end, Suffolk County Legislature’s Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) proposed legislation June 22 that would instruct Suffolk’s Department of Economic Development and Planning to create a pilot program to address the issues causing millennials to leave for less expensive areas. While there are few specific details available on this proposal, Gregory has pointed to other municipalities creating programs that help young adults with student debt purchase homes while still paying down their loans.

This is but one step in the right direction. As the Class of 2018 disperses, their parents’ work shifts from helping with science projects and math homework to advocating for local change that will improve the quality of life young adults can expect on Long Island. Better entry-level job opportunities that offer competitive salaries without requiring travel into the city are needed, and more affordable housing and assistance to put the down payment on a house to help start a family are also important.

Take a few days to rejoice and celebrate with the graduating Class of 2018, but there is much work to be done creating a brighter, more youthful future for Long Island.

Miller Place High School valedictorian Nicole Cirrito and salutatorian Victoria Calandrino have worked hard both in the classroom and on the sports field.

Cirrito graduated with a 100.77 GPA and won several academic awards, including the Rensselaer Medal Award for Excellence in Math and Science, the Advanced Placement Language Expository Writing Award, scholar-athlete awards in track and field hockey and was named an AP scholar with honors. Her SAT score sits at a healthy 1520.

Miller Place valedictorian Nicole Cirrito. Photo from Miller Place School District

Cirrito is an active member of the school’s yearbook club, service club and the Foreign Language Honor Society. As an athlete, she has been recognized as All-League and All-Division on her spring track team. She also ran cross-country.

“I’m going to miss my friends the most, that and running track,” Cirrito said.

Some of her proudest accomplishments were done as vice president of the National Honor Society, where she participated in setting up blood drives, food drives and other charitable events. 

“We got to do things for our community and we were able to become very involved in all the planning and executing” Cirrito said.

She will be attending Stony Brook University in the fall where she will study math in the honors program with the hopes of becoming a math teacher.

“I like the ability to figure out what problems are ahead of you just using what you know,” Cirrito said. “I’ve always wanted to be a teacher since I was younger, and when I got older and I learned I liked math. I just knew I wanted to be a math teacher.”

Calandrino graduated with a 99.87 GPA and received high marks on advanced placement exams, including a perfect score in AP Psychology. She is the receiver of awards for excellence in AP Psychology, AP World History and AP Language and Composition. In school she has been active as a member in the school orchestra and on the school soccer and track teams.

Miller Place salutatorian Victoria Calandrino. Photo from Miller Place School District

Outside of school she held several leadership positions, including secretary of the National Honor Society, in which she recorded meeting minutes and worked to help set up events.

The most fun she said she’s had in her activities out of school involved an internship for Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), where she aided the politician in the offices response to the White House attempting to lift the ban on wildlife trophies as well as the legislator’s efforts in dealing with local feral cat problems.

“In Miller Place we have a feral cat problem, and my family adopted a cat that we found outside, so I got to work with different vets around Miller Place and Mount Sinai to coordinate the office’s efforts,” Calandrino said.

She will be attending Boston University where she will be studying political science on a prelaw track. Though at the moment she intends on going into law, she said she is leaving herself open to studying politics or world history, specifically looking at working in international relations.

Calandrino said students entering high school who might think they enjoy a subject should use the available AP classes to see in which subjects they are interested. 

“Definitely don’t slack off and not take AP classes, because AP classes transfer to a lot of schools,” she said. “It’s very beneficial and it will help you figure out if you want to become something in that field.”

This year’s top two Rocky Point seniors had very close GPAs, but very different interests. 

Valedictorian Connor Middleton, who focused on government and politics, graduated with a 106.71 GPA. He received a perfect score of 800 on his SAT II U.S. History test; was a member of the varsity lacrosse team; a Human Rights Institute for High School Leaders presenter and facilitator; a Students Building Bridges Award recipient; garnered state, senate and assembly citations for community service; is a kempo jiujitsu black belt; and a Peer Networking facilitator with socially challenged students.

Rocky Point valedictorian Connor Middleton. Photo from Rocky Point school district

Beyond all that, he said his best experience was as the vice president of the school’s Human Rights Club, which has worked to spread knowledge on the subject and its abuse taking place all over the world.

“It’s something that we’ve built up over the years and it’s something I’m really passionate about,” Middleton said. “I’ve been fortunate to have good teachers in [history,] and they’ve just helped me gather interest in it. They made history come alive.”

Middleton will be attending Williams College in Massachusetts where he will be double majoring in political philosophy and economy with a concentration in global studies. He said he hopes to take that knowledge to the state department or the United Nations as a diplomat, an ambassador or an economic advisor. He said he’d like to travel to developing countries to work with nations on human trafficking, human rights abuses and natural disaster relief.

 “I think spending your first year or two getting involved and immersing yourself in activities both inside and outside of school, and sticking with it, is important,” Middleton said. “It was helpful for me.”

Salutatorian Kyle Markland was just edged out by Middleton, graduating with a 106.69 GPA, but heavily involved in robotics and engineering.

Rocky Point salutatorian Kyle Markland. Photo from Rocky Point school district

Markland was a member of the cross-country and field and track teams, played double bass in the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall and helped found Rocky Point’s robotics teams, all while running a YouTube channel that focuses on LEGO Mindstorms robot building. This year he published a book detailing how to build several quirky and complicated LEGO robots.

In May, Markland attended the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which was attended by students from over 75 countries.

“I had what was probably the best week of my life,” Markland said of his experience in Pennsylvania. “I didn’t end up placing, but it was such an awesome experience because we had 1,800 kids about my age who were just as interested in research and technology as I was.”

Markland will attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he plans to study engineering on a robotics track. He said he hopes to open his own technology or robotics company, or would like to work with major car manufacturing companies on self-driving car technology.

Markland said those kids going into their first year of high school this September should make the most out of the next four years.

“Work hard now, because these four years are possibly the most pivotal four years of your life,” Markland said. “There’s nothing more powerful than somebody who plans their work and works their plan.”

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.

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.

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.

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