Graduations

Luke Muratore

By Leah Chiappino

Each year, students who earn a cumulative grade point average of 4.0 or higher choose a representative to speak at graduation. This year Luke Muratore received the honor.

Muratore earned a final GPA of 4.52 and will attend University of Maryland, College Park, in the College Park Scholars program. He plans to major in computer science with a minor in business and hopes to work as a software engineer or program manager in New York City one day.

Throughout high school, Muratore served as president of the National Honor Society and as captain of varsity cross-country and varsity track. He was also the public relations officer for the Math Honor Society, Relay for Life team captain and was involved in Athletes Helping Athletes and DECA. Muratore says his favorite high school memory was competing in the Business Olympics.

“It was such an exciting moment to smile and present my team’s idea in front of a crowd of friends, family and teachers,” he said. “Later on in the night when it was announced that we won, I felt such a massive rush of energy.”

The honor speaker said he has his parents to thank for helping him succeed.

“My parents have always been comforting, helpful and inspiring and are a huge reason why I push myself to work hard in everything I do,” he said.

He added that he is grateful for the education he received at Smithtown West.

“I’ve never had a ‘bad teacher’ at Smithtown West,” he said. “Every teacher, coach and club adviser I have met has impacted the way I think in a unique and positive way.”

He added that the district’s efforts to try to “normalize” senior year helped him stay positive in the wake of having events canceled due to COVID-19.

Muratore encourages next year’s seniors to stay positive and to savor their time in high school.

“Make sure to smile, laugh and make the best out of every moment of high school,” he said. “Keep a positive mentality and don’t let the bad moments ruin your year. While we may be having more bad days in coming months, we must focus on the best parts of our lives rather than dwell on the worst. Achieving happiness means brushing off negativity and striving to do well as a person and community.”

Evan Jenkins, Centereach Salutatorian and Gianna Gurovich, the Valedictorian. Photos from MCSD

Evan Jenkins — Centereach High School Salutatorian:

Jenkins finished his high school career with a 101.91 weighted GPA. The senior was an AP Scholar with Distinction, recipient of the Rensselaer Medal and the Centereach High School AP Platinum Award. Jenkins served as National Society treasurer, a Tri-M and All-County percussionist and a member of the All-State symphonic band. 

The Centereach native plans to attend Lehigh University in the fall and will study engineering.  

“I’m going to miss Centereach, I’ve met some of my best friends here and I’ve gotten to know some amazing teachers- especially this year,” he said. 

Jenkins said the decision to take physics this year helped solidify what he wanted to pursue in college. He credited his physics teacher, Al Levik. 

“Taking his class really had a positive impact on me and led me to want to be an engineering major,” he said. 

Jenkins is excited to get on Lehigh’s campus saying that the school is planning on opening back up in August. 

“I’m really looking forward to meeting new people and having that college experience,” the senior said. 

He plans to be involved in performance arts at the college either joining the wind ensemble or jazz band. 

Jenkins gave advice to incoming freshmen. 

“I would say to get involved as much as possible and take advantage of a free public education,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to take AP or college level courses, you learn so much valuable information and it can help you find your career path. Also, it’s important to stay motivated.” 

Gianna Gurovich — Centereach High School Valedictorian: 

Gurovich finished her college career with a 100.36 GPA. The senior was an New York State champion gymnast, recipient of a Silver Medal in World Championships and President’s National Service Award, member of the National Honor Society, Science Olympiad, vice president of the Italian Honor Society and Meinig Family Cornell National Scholar. 

Gurovich will attend Cornell University in the fall where she will be studying biomedical engineering. 

The Centereach native said she’ll cherish her time at the high school and enjoyed being around her friends and getting to know her teachers. 

“We just found out that Cornell will allow us to move onto campus, I’m looking forward to getting involved in their club gymnastics and staying active in the community,” she said. 

Gurovich credits her family, friends and teachers for helping her get to where she is. She also shared some advice for incoming freshmen and lowerclassmen. 

“Be involved as much as possible, go to every event,” she said. “It is also important to stay focused and set goals for yourself.”

Mount Sinai 2020 Valedictorian Aaron Angress and Salutatorian Skyler Spitz. Photos from MSSD

The two young men heading up Mount Sinai’s Class of 2020 are mathematically minded individuals hoping to reach new heights in their careers. 

The top of Mount Sinai’s class this year includes salutatorian Skyler Spitz and valedictorian Aaron Angress.

Angress, with a total weighted grade point average of 105.17, has been a member of the National Honor Society, the decorated Ocean Bowl Team, active in STEM ROV building and a National Merit Scholarship finalist. On the artistic side, he is a member of All-State and All-County symphonic band, a member of the pit band and mini-ensemble group.

The valedictorian said one of his favorite activities during high school was his participation in the school’s Ocean Bowl team, which participates in quiz-bowl competitions based around oceanography. The team qualified for a national competition in Washington, D.C. 

The graduating senior, who moved to Mount Sinai when he started fifth-grade, said growing up in the hamlet was “pretty great,” and the district “played an integral part in my process of growing up.”

His best memories from high school, along with the Ocean Bowl team, was playing saxophone with the various groups around New York and his senior trip to Disney World.

Angress plans to attend Northeastern University to study mechanical engineering and physics. He said he would enjoy being involved in scientific research, and if the stars align, his dream is to visit space as an astronaut.

Spitz finishes the year with a weighted GPA of 104.86. He spent his high school years as a student council vice president, a National AP Scholar, a member of the National Honor Society, varsity tennis captain, member of Mathletes and Future Business Leaders of America All-Sate winner. He said the best part of his extracurriculars are the memories and friends he made.

He too felt the best moment of his high school career was being able to take his senior trip despite the start of the pandemic.

The salutatorian will be attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to major in statistics and analytics in the hope of becoming an analyst at a quant in the future. 

Though their years were cut short because of the pandemic, Angress said those students entering their senior year should figure out what it is they want to do and prepare for the future.

“Personally, the pandemic has taught me to take nothing for granted — I’ll certainly cherish everything much more now, even the little things,” Angress said.

Spitz said that the year had been nothing but disheartening, but he suggested students look to take advantage of their senior year to have at least some fun.

“I was looking forward to creating many more memories this year and can now only hope that I will be able to graduate alongside my friends,” he said. “Everything will work out, and you might as well enjoy your final moments in school rather than worrying about the small things in life out of your control.”

Miller Place 2020 Valedictorian Joseph Bisiani and Salutatorian Larry Davis. Photos from MPSD

Miller Place High School’s top two students are looking to leave their mark in both the local community and the wider world.

This year’s top students at Miller Place are valedictorian Joseph Bisiani and salutatorian Larry Davis.

Bisiani is graduating with a weighted grade point average of 101.54. In school, he was the Rubik’s Cube Club founder and president, senior class president, National Honor Society vice president, a National Merit Commended Scholar, Academic All-County varsity soccer, Natural Helpers peer leader and member of Tri-M.

He said being the person behind the Rubik’s Cube Club was especially exciting, as he has been “speedcubing” since he was in eighth-grade, and now he had the opportunity to show the mathematics behind a Rubik’s Cube to his peers. As class president, he said he was involved in fundraising food sales and had petitioned the board of education for a class trip, though those plans were squashed due to the pandemic.

Otherwise, he thanked his parents, his brother and sister and his Catholic faith, which he said was the backbone of his life and his efforts to “be a good person.”

“I am so grateful to have been brought up in Miller Place, due to the small-knit community and closeness we all have to one another,” he said. “I loved having a school where I could know everybody in it, and have a close relationship with all of my teachers.”

Bisani plans to attend Stony Brook University in the Honors Program and major in math and physics on the pre-med track. He added he would like to take some politics courses while in college.

Davis is graduating with a 101.35 weighted GPA. Through his high school career, he made Eagle Scout last December, was a Metropolitan Youth Orchestra principal hornist, Scholar-Artist Merit Award, French Honor Society president, NYSSMA All-State participant, varsity badminton player and member of the Nassau-Suffolk jazz ensemble.

As part of the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, he said he was able to travel to Europe, which became “one of the fondest experiences I was lucky enough to have, between making friends, performing music and appreciating foreign culture.”

As a musician, he said going to the All-State Music Festival was one of the unforgettable experiences of his high school career. Otherwise, he thanked his parents and sister for their support in his academic, musical, athletic and Scouting endeavors. He also thanked the teachers “who have pushed me to improve myself both in my work and in my daily life.”

Davis plans to attend Columbia University and major in biomedical engineering. Beyond that, he said he wants to pursue a career in disease research to help find treatments for current and future illnesses.

The salutatorian said it’s important for students to embrace a sense that whatever happens, happens, especially considering the way this year was turned on its head due to the pandemic.

“ven though this year’s situation is pretty unprecedented, it’s important to look ahead and stay on the bright side, because something absolutely astounding can come out of it,” he said.

Rocky Point 2020 Valedictorian Hope Lantz-Gefroh and Salutatorian Molly Lambert. Photos from RPUFSD

Rocky Point High School is proud to announce that seniors Hope Lantz-Gefroh and Molly Lambert have been named valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, of the Class of 2020.

Lantz-Gefroh’s diversified high school career includes president of the National Math Honor Society, member of the National Honor Society, a member of Compassion Without Borders, a math and science tutor, a regional team dancer and dance teacher, and is employed at a formal wear boutique in Mount Sinai.

The valedictorian will join the freshman class at Texas Christian University where she will be on the pre-med educational track.

Lambert’s list of achievements is comprehensive and includes being a member of the National Honor Society, the New York State Mathematics Honor Society, the National English Honor Society and the Thespian Society. She was selected to represent the Rocky Point school district at the New York State School Music Association’s All-County and All-State conferences as a senior, took part in the high school’s Pocket Theater Productions for three years and has been a leading character in numerous high school musical productions. She also took on the responsibility of assistant director on the school’s most recent show “Fiddler on the Roof.”

The salutatorian intends to major in biology and minor in English at Colgate University in the fall.

“In addition to being at the top of their class, these two exceptional students are both well-rounded in their academics and interests,” Principal Jonathan Hart said. “Their ambitions and defined goals will lead them to greater achievements and we all look forward to hearing about their successes in the future.”

SWR 2020 Valedictorian Jacqueline Holden and Salutatorian Stephanie Searing. Photos from SWRCSD

Shoreham-Wading River High School announced the top scoring seniors of the Class of 2020 with Jacqueline Holden and Stephanie Searing having been named valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively.

These two well-rounded students both have impressive achievements and interests and have taken advantage of many of the district’s courses and extracurricular activities.

Valedictorian Holden’s achievements include involvement with the Drama Club and Tri-M Music Honor Society, where she serves each club as treasurer; leadership roles as secretary for both Women in Science and Engineering and Students Against Destructive Decisions and varsity captain of Brainstormers. Outside of a busy high school career, she is a leader in St. Mark’s Teen Choir and a Girl Scout.

Holden will study molecular biology at the University of Pittsburgh in the fall. She, along with other valedictorians, were saluted by the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association this year in what would have been their 26th annual valedictorians luncheon, which was canceled due to the pandemic. Instead Superintendent Gerard Poole presented Holden with a commemorative program, congratulatory video, a certificate of achievement and a cherished childhood storybook, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” by Dr. Seuss.

Salutatorian Searing served as vice president of the National Honor Society’s Peer Tutoring, is treasurer of Tri-Music Honor Society, represented her peers as the ex-officio student member of the Shoreham-Wading River board of education, is a member of Mathletes, the varsity track team and the varsity tennis team. Searing is principal violist of the Children’s Orchestral Society and participated in the Plum Island Animal Disease Center High School STEM Forum, a unique opportunity where she presented her findings on the organ shortage in America to scientists from Plum Island, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, University of Connecticut, Suffolk County Community College and Mystic Aquarium among others.

Searing will attend Stevens Institute of Technology where she will major in biomedical engineering.   

“These two students represent the exceptional programming offered at our high school,” Principal Frank Pugliese said. “Their leadership skills and well-rounded academic, athletic, extracurricular and community involvement exemplify the goals of the Shoreham-Wading River School District – providing all students the skills required to become lifelong learners in a self-sufficient manner. We look forward to hearing more about their accomplishments in the future.”

Comsewogue 2020 Valedictorian Daniela Galvez-Cepeda and Salutatorian Gianna Alcala. Photos from CSD

Two young women lead the top of the class at Comsewogue High School. Valedictorian Daniela Galvez-Cepeda and salutatorian Gianna Alcala have near-identical grade point averages, but both have far different plans for their futures.

Galvez-Cepeda finished the year with a weighted GPA of 102.42. During school, she spent much of her time as student government co-president and French Honor Society president, a member of varsity track and field and Athlete Helping Athletes. In addition, she is a National Hispanic Recognition Scholar, Women in Science and Engineering team member at Stony Brook University and a National Merit Scholar Commended Student. 

In her free time, she said she was a junior volunteer at Mather Hospital, where since 2017 she answered visitors’ questions at the front desk in both English and Spanish and provided them with comfort when needed. She also shadowed nurses on their rounds with patients.

She said her best memory of high school was her work setting up a donation drive the school organized in 2017 to help the people in Puerto Rico hurt by Hurricane Maria.

“I walked back and forth from the parking lot, unloading cars and trucks and bringing donations into our school’s auditorium,” she said. “My district neighbors were so generous that we filled up our whole auditorium with donations in only one day.”

In the fall, Galvez-Cepeda will be attending Williams College in Massachusetts where she will double major in math and physics on the pre-med track. She said her goal is to be a trauma surgeon, but she added she is excited to explore other options down the road.

Alcala is moving on to college with a 102.26 weighted GPA. She is a National Merit Scholarship Commended Scholar, Women in Science and Engineering at Stony Brook University, Art Honor Society president, Science Honor Society treasurer, as well as a member of the cross-country, Country Farms equestrian team and band.

She said her experiences with WISE and Art Honor Society were especially important to her high school career, though her favorite memory was traveling abroad with classmates to Spain, France and Italy.

Though she thanked her friends, family and teachers for inspiring her, she added that Galvez-Cepeda, her friend and competitor for the top academic spot, was also a huge inspiration.

“For the past seven years, Dani has been my most brilliant competitor and one of the most kind and generous people I’ve ever known,” Alcala said. “Without her impact on my life, I wouldn’t be half the person I am today.”

The salutatorian will be attending the University of Southern California, Viterbi School of Engineering to study environmental engineering. She said she wants to work toward a more sustainable world, especially in the textile industry. 

Though the coronavirus cut off in-person learning prematurely for the 2020 senior class, the high school’s academic leaders said though they lacked physical contact with teachers and peers, the important thing is to persevere.

“High school is the foundation that is setting you up for the success that is to come in your life,” Galvez-Cepeda said. “So, enjoy your time with your friends while learning new things in a safe space together.”

The class of 2018 moves tassels to recognize the transition from high school senior to graduate at the Ward Melville High School Commencement June 24. Photo by Andrea Paldy

The 2019-2020 academic year has been one filled with changes, and graduation plans have been no different.

In a letter to Ward Melville High School seniors and families earlier in June, Principal William Bernhard and 12th-grade Assistant Principal Erin Connolly announced that the school was developing a plan to host an in-person graduation Sunday, July 19. The decision came a month after plans were already made to hold five separate ceremonies during the week of June 22, which would have involved seniors being split into groups of five alphabetically and families being required to stay in their cars as one senior at a time got out of each vehicle to accept their diploma.

According to the June letter, the decision to cancel the drive-through graduation this week and revert back to an in-person ceremony was made after Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) earlier in the month signed an executive order giving permission to host in-person graduation ceremonies beginning June 26 with a maximum of 150 people that meet the social-distancing guidelines.

The order propelled the high school to develop a new graduation plan for 2020 with the hopes that future changes will allow an in-person graduation for the class of more than 500 even though they are proceeding cautiously.

“If the current parameters are not relaxed by this new graduation date, the district will continue with the in-vehicle format on Monday, July 20, through Friday, July 24,” the letter reads. “Social-distancing guidelines, including masks and reduced numbers in attendance, must still be in place for any live event.”

The school plans for each graduate to be restricted to two guests, and when students pick up their caps and gowns, there will be a packet with a colored parking pass in order to enter the grounds on graduation day.

Jennifer Catalano, whose daughter Rachael is graduating this year, was pleased to hear the news.

“I’m happy that the school district has gone above and beyond to make graduation as traditional as possible,” she said. “My daughter is happy she will be able to turn her tassel and partake in the traditional cap toss.”

Senior Jake Shangold was also glad to hear of the possibility of an in-person ceremony.

“I know as a senior it would be nice to have the whole class together to share one last moment,” he said. “I know Principal Bernhard and Superintendent Pedisich are doing all they can to make sure seniors are being celebrated.”

Salutatorian Matthew Fiorella, who will be reading a speech at the ceremony along with valedictorian William Sun, is looking forward to a “relatively normal graduation.”

“I was happy that we were still able to have a graduation ceremony when the drive-through plan was created, but being able to have a true in-person graduation is exciting,” he said.

Comsewogue Assistant Superintendent Joseph Coniglione and Superintendent Jessica Quinn delivered cap and gowns to high school seniors June 8. Photo from Quinn’s Facebook

With graduation plans interrupted due to the pandemic, local school districts are trying to find unique options to give seniors their send-off.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order June 7 that allowed districts to have in-person socially distanced graduations for up to 150 people after June 26. Comsewogue High School, with around 320 students graduating this year, has opted instead to hold several ceremonies online in the latter half of June. 

“Our plan is socially distant and safe,” said Superintendent Jennifer Quinn.

While graduation is still scheduled for July 23, the district is planning a car parade send-off. Seniors will be asked to drive through the front bus loop at the high school on Thursday, June 25, between 12 and 1 p.m. The district expects to play music and have lawn signs with the name and picture for each graduate. Staff is expected to come to the building and cheer passing seniors.

The district is also planning several virtual and distanced events after classes officially end June 16. The district will host a Varsity Awards Night Friday, June 19, at 6 p.m., a Senior Scholarship Night, June 22 at 6:30 p.m. and a Virtual Senior Prom June 23 at 8 p.m., all via Zoom. The district will then host a senior slideshow drive-in movie June 24 at 7:30 and 9 p.m. at the high school south parking lot.

Port Jefferson School District, with a graduating class of just 85, is instead pushing its graduation tentatively to Aug 1 (rain date Aug.2), hopeful that New York continues its trend of declining infections and deaths. 

Port Jeff Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said that date was decided before the June 7 executive order, but in a poll senior students overwhelmingly asked for a later event that can be held in person. Village of Port Jefferson officials have notified the district theywill allow the district to use the Village Center for both this activity and its senior prom, which is also tentatively scheduled for a day or two after graduation.

“We’re waiting to see if gathering limits are lifted a little bit more and have more guests and families there like we usually have,” Schmettan said.

The village is also giving a unique opportunity for seniors, using its drive-in movies and showing the John Hughes classic “The Breakfast Club” June 20 exclusively for graduating seniors at its location uptown in the parking lot north of the train station. The village is paying for the drive-in expenses.

Chris Friedl, of Backwoods Landscaping and a Comsewogue High School graduate, plants sunflowers for Comsewogue’s graduating seniors. Photo by Andrew Harris

Comsewogue school district is trying to leave its seniors with a little bit more than a diploma for all those who saw their last high school year cut short.

Assistant Superintendent Joe Coniglione and Superintendent Jennifer Quinn look at the sprouts of sunflowers in Jackie’s Garden. Photo by Andrew Harris

The district has planted hundreds of sunflowers in the high school courtyard, known as Jackie’s Garden after the late wife of former Superintendent Dr. Joe Rella, who in February also passed away. 

The seeds number over 320, and should bloom into massive golden yellow flowers by the fall. 

The plantings came together thanks to Chris Friedl, 26, from Backwoods Landscaping. A 2012 Comsewogue graduate, he said he was very empathetic to the 2020 graduating class who were missing out on so much as a normal senior year. 

“It sucks, there’s no other way to put it,” Friedl said. “Going through all they’re going through with all this adversity, it’s incredible.”

Andrew Harris, a special education teacher in the district, said he floated the idea to district officials earlier this year. Friedl jumped at the chance to help. He was also the person who donated material for Jackie’s Garden several years ago. He has come back now and again to provide small upkeep to the flower boxes. 

After clearing and cleaning the empty planting boxes, the district hosted a ceremony May 16 where students’ names were read as the landscaper planted the seeds.

Friedl asked if he could plant a seed for Joe and Jackie Rella. Though the garden was meant for students, Harris told him he could.

“He always remembered my name out of thousands of students,” Friedl said of Rella. “Nobody had a bad word to say about him or Jackie, which just says miles about the kind of people they were.”

A day and a half after they were planted, Harris said he came back to the garden. There, growing in the earth, he thought he saw weeds. Normally sunflowers take five to 10 days before one sees them start to sprout, but the two seeds planted for the Rellas were indeed springing from the earth.

“The hair on the back of my neck started to stand up,” Harris said. “I remembered how when I told Dr. Rella about this particular butterfly that kept coming back to our garden, even though we never had any butterflies before. He told me in his gruff Brooklyn-accented voice, ‘Andy, I believe with every fiber in my body that that is a sign from Jackie.’ I looked at the new sunflower sprout and had no doubt about what it meant.”

Official info on Comsewogue graduations is still to be determined, though students were delivered their caps and gowns this week.

Friedl offered some advice to seniors.

“Stay strong, the entire community is behind you, and keep your path,” he said. “The community really wants you to succeed.”