Shoreham-Wading River High School Principal Frank Pugliese congratulates Derek Blanco. Photos courtesy of the Shoreham-Wading River CSD


Shoreham-Wading River High School held its 48th commencement ceremony on Friday, June 21. Families and spectators were welcomed by Principal Frank Pugliese, followed by the national anthem performed by Torre Cintorino, Cassandra Keany, Emily Murray and Robert Tacke, with ASL interpretation by Abigail DeLumen, Carly Mulroy, Elizabeth Sabino and Emma Turley.

Salutatorian Lucas Portuese addressed his peers, expressing gratitude to teachers, family and others who guided them to success. Assistant Principal John Holownia then recognized members of the Class of 2024 who will serve in the Armed Forces after graduation: Alexander Castillo (U.S. Air National Guard), Keith Donnellan (U.S. Army), Armani Foglia (U.S. Navy), Jennifer Mensche (U.S. Navy) and Kyle Rose (U.S. Air Force ROTC). Tacke performed Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).”

Valedictorian James Minetti expressed gratitude to his parents and siblings, and encouraged his classmates to pursue their passions, spend time productively and contribute meaningfully. Superintendent of Schools Gerard Poole commended the students for their achievements in academics, arts and athletics. He expressed hope for the graduates’ futures, urging them to embrace their aspirations and dreams.

Pugliese called for a moment of silence for members of the Class of 2024, John Kane and Andrew McMorris, who were honored posthumously with diplomas. Pugliese also recognized the Exceptional Academic Seniors before inviting each member of the Class of 2024 to receive their diploma. Finally, he led Minetti and Portuese in the ceremonial turning of the tassels, prompting cheers and applause throughout the audience.

Rocky Point High School Commencement Day photos. Photos courtesy of Rocky Point school district.

Members of Rocky Point High School’s Class of 2024 began the next stage of their lives at the district’s annual commencement ceremony on Wednesday, June 26. As the students proudly walked onto the school’s football field, the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance” greeted them. The ceremony began with a welcome from Principal James Moeller, who thanked administrators, board of education members, educators, parents and family members for their collective guidance and support along the students’ path to success.

Student Renee Ortiz sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” accompanied by the high school band conducted by Amy Schecher. This was followed by Exhortation Speaker Parker Matzen, who shared the history and lessons he learned along with his peers. Moeller then expressed his pride in the Class of 2024, applauding their achievements in school and in the community. He tied Dr. Seuss’ book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” with the steps the students took to get to this point, sharing memories of serving as the middle school principal while they were there. He highlighted the inaugural Unified Basketball team as a true showing of Rocky Point community and pride, and spotlighted other athletic teams, academic accomplishments and achievements in the arts.

Superintendent of Schools Scott O’Brien spoke next, sharing the symbolism of Rocky Point’s mascot — the eagle. He noted that eagles are not just symbols of strength and freedom but also share valuable lessons about perseverance, growing stronger and more confident until they fly one day effortlessly across the sky. He stated that, just like Rocky Point’s esteemed mascot, the students have embodied resilience, strength and grace throughout their educational journey in Rocky Point.

Valedictorian Isabella Rooney and salutatorian Sofia Haviland each addressed their fellow classmates, sharing words of remembrance from their time spent in Rocky Point, as well as encouragement for their peers’ new journey ahead.

Board of Education President Jessica Ward then officially presented the candidates for graduation to all those in attendance.

Sunshine Alternative Education Center in Port Jefferson Station celebrated the successful graduation and moving forward of all 12 students from its transformative educational initiative on June 13. This milestone marks not only academic achievement but also a testament to the power of support and dedication in shaping young lives.

The special ceremony was a touching event filled with emotions of pride and accomplishment. These high school students, who have overcome various challenges and barriers, were celebrated for their resilience and determination. Each student has demonstrated exceptional growth, not only academically but also personally, making significant strides towards a brighter future.

Dr. Carter, Co-founder and CEO of Sunshine acknowledged that none of this would have been possible without the unwavering support of our community, elected officials, school districts, agency partners, and sponsors. Town of Brookhaven Councilman Jonathan Kornreich and Suffolk County Youth Bureau Director Sandra Alfano helped Dr. Carter acknowledge all the supporters for their generous contributions of time, resources, and expertise which have been instrumental in helping Sunshine provide these students with the tools and opportunities they needed to succeed. Sunshine Alternative Education Center’s commitment to education and empowerment has made a lasting impact on the lives of these students and their families.

“We are immensely proud of our two graduates from Bayshore and Pat Med school districts and are deeply grateful to everyone who has supported them on this journey,” said Dr. Carter, Co-founder/CEO of Sunshine Alternative Education Center. “And we also acknowledge the Moving Up of the other students in the program because this ceremony is a testament to what can be achieved when we come together as a community to uplift and empower our youth.”

Sunshine Alternative Education Center has been committed to continuing its mission of providing alternative education services to high school students who could benefit from an alternative to the traditional school setting for various reasons. The success of this ceremony serves as a powerful reminder of the potential within every individual and the importance of providing positive and supportive environments.

For more information about Sunshine Alternative Education Center and how you can support their efforts, please visit or contact Dr. Carter at 631-476-3099.

Middle Country Central School District. File photo

The Middle Country Central School District announced that Michael Cosmo from Centereach High School and Saitta Roy from Newfield High School are their schools’ respective Class of 2024 valedictorians, while Gregory Mears from Centereach High School and Danica Lyktey from Newfield High School are the salutatorians.

Throughout their four years in high school, these students excelled academically, were active community members, and participated in various extracurricular activities.

Centereach High School Class of 2024 valedictorian Michael Cosmo achieved outstanding academic success during his high school tenure. His weighted GPA of 103.9 is a testament to his dedication and hard work. Michael’s academic achievements include completing 13 AP classes and two additional college-level courses. He is a member of the National Honor Society, the Spanish Honor Society, and the Tri-M Music Honor Society.

Beyond academics, Michael has made significant contributions to all facets of Centereach High School. He serves as the GO treasurer, demonstrating his leadership and involvement in school activities. Michael’s talents extend to the arts and athletics as well. He excels as a musician, playing the trumpet in the school’s jazz band and pit orchestra, and as a varsity basketball player and captain of the varsity tennis team. He has been recognized as an Academic All-County player by Suffolk County basketball coaches.

Moreover, Michael has shown a commitment to community service, tutoring elementary students, volunteering at basketball camps, and participating in Tri-M Music Honor Society-sponsored events. After graduation, Michael plans to pursue a career in law at Georgetown University, building on his internships with local lawmakers during high school.

Centereach High School Class of 2024 salutatorian Gregory Mears also achieved academic success. His combined SAT score of 1530 places him in the top 1% of all students nationally. Gregory has completed 11 AP classes and four additional college-level courses, earning recognition as an AP Scholar with Distinction and a National Merit Scholarship Commended student. He is a valued member of the National Honor Society, the French Honor Society, and the Tri-M Music Honor Society.

In addition to his academic achievements, Gregory is deeply involved in Centereach High School’s co-curricular activities. He holds the position of vice president of the science club, co-founded the school’s chess club, and actively participates in Tri-M Music Honor Society-sponsored events. Gregory’s commitment to community service is evident through his hours spent with the Avalon Nature Initiative in Stony Brook. As a talented musician, he serves as principal bassist in the Philharmonic and chamber orchestras. Gregory embodies the spirit of the music department and the Tri-M Music Honor Society. After graduation, Gregory plans to pursue English literature at Colby College in Maine.

Newfield High School Class of 2024 valedictorian Saitta Roy boasts a weighted GPA of 102.19 and will have the potential to graduate in June with more than 30 college credits. She keeps herself busy as a member of the school’s mock trial team, the crochet club, the newspaper club, and the pit orchestra. She is also the vice president of the Tri-M Music Honor Society and president of the National Honor Society.

Outside of school, Saitta works at the Middle Country Public Library and serves as a tutor, also known as a homework pal, for elementary-age students. Saitta has accumulated over 100 hours of community service as a book buddy, making donations to Stony Brook Hospital through the crochet club, serving food at the New Lane Elementary School MVP dance, and running a station at the Bicycle Path Literacy Expo through the National Honor Society. Saitta will be attending the University of Notre Dame, where she will major in mechanical engineering on her way to law school.

Newfield High School Class of 2024 salutatorian Danica Lyktey earned the number two spot out of 324 seniors, maintaining a 101.68 weighted GPA. She took a total of 15 AP and college-level classes throughout her high school career. Danica has the potential to graduate with more than 40 college credits.

Danica is an active member of the Spanish Honor Society, the National Honor Society, and is part of the school’s varsity kickline. Outside of school, she is a competitive dancer at Inspirations Performing Arts Centre and this year she is teaching a class for 3- to 6-year-old students. Danica will be attending SUNY Binghamton in the fall, majoring in psychology.

For more information regarding the Middle Country Central School District and its students’ many achievements, please visit the district’s website:

Honorary Degree Provided to Nobel Prize-Winning COVID Biochemist and Researcher Katalin Karikó

More than 7,600 Stony Brook University students joined the ranks of the university’s accomplished alumni at the 2024 Degree Commencement Celebration ceremony. The ceremony took place at LaValle Stadium on Friday, May 17, 2024.

Students from this year’s graduating class in the university’s 67-year history, were awarded a combined 7,785 degrees and certificate completions. All candidates, with their family and friends, were invited to participate in-person or could watch via livestream.

Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian American biochemist Katalin Karikó was bestowed with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Science at the university’s earlier May 14th doctoral hooding ceremony to celebrate her efforts that helped pave the way for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID vaccines that helped stem the spread of the pandemic.

Stony Brook University President Maurie McInnis, Provost Carl Lejuez, and University Deans conferred the degrees to the university students.

Stony Brook University President McInnis challenged this year’s graduating class: “Be a changemaker in the world. This is what it means to carry the spirit of Stony Brook with you.” She also paid tribute to the late former Stony Brook Department of Mathematics Chair and university benefactor Dr. Jim Simons, who she said had “a shared belief in the world-changing potential within each and every Stony Brook student that led [him] and his wife [Dr.] Marilyn [Simons] a Stony Brook alum, to make a $500 million dollar endowment gift to Stony Brook from the Simons Foundation in 2023….I am certain Jim would be so proud of you today, and I can’t think of a better tribute to his legacy than each of you leveraging your Stony Brook education in service of today’s greatest challenges.”

The Class of 2024 officially joined the ranks of more than 220,000 Seawolves worldwide. This class contains students from 65 countries and 45 states, and ranges in age from 19 – 77 years.

Degrees were bestowed in the following categories:

  • 4,905 Bachelor’s Degrees

  • 2,075 Master’s Degrees

  • 580 Doctoral and Professional Degrees

  • 225 Certificates

Several graduating students were highlighted in this resilience recording that can be found here.

As part of the ceremony, the President of the Undergraduate Student Government announced to President McInnis that more than 600 students donated to the Senior Class Gift, resulting in over $26,000 donated to the Stony Brook University Community. Also, the Stony Brook Alumni Association provided matching dollars for this gift.

125 graduates of the Renaissance School of Medicine (RSOM) at Stony Brook University received their MD degrees in 2024. Photo by Arthur Fredericks

By Daniel Dunaief

On May 14, the Renaissance School of Medicine celebrated 50 years since its first graduating class, as 125 students entered the ranks of medical doctor.

The newly minted doctors completed an unusual journey that began in the midst of Covid-19 and concluded with a commencement address delivered by former National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dr. Fauci currently serves as Distinguished University Professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and the McCourt School of Public Policy and also serves as Distinguished Senior Scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

“I have been fortunate to have had the privilege of delivering several commencement addresses over the years,” Dr. Fauci began. “Invariably, I have included in those addresses a reference to the fact that I was in your shoes many years ago when I graduated from medical school.”

This graduating class, however, has gone through a journey that “has been exceptional and, in some cases unprecedented,” Dr. Fauci added.

Indeed, the Class of 2024 started classes remotely, learning a wide range of course online, including anatomy.

“Imagine taking anatomy online?” Dr. Bill Wertheim, interim Executive Vice President for Stony Brook Medicine, said in an interview. “Imagine how challenging that is.”

Dr. Wertheim was pleased with the willingness, perseverance and determination of the class to make whatever contribution they could in responding to the pandemic.

The members of this class “were incredibly engaged. They rolled up their sleeves and pitched in wherever they could to help the hospital manage the patients they were taking care of,” said Wertheim, which included putting together plastic gowns when the school struggled to find supplies and staffing respite areas.

“Hats off to them” for their continued zeal and enthusiasm learning amid such challenges, including social issues that roiled the country during their medical training, Wertheim said.

Student experience

For Maame Yaa Brako, who was born in Ghana and moved to Ontario, Canada when she was 11, the beginning of medical school online was both a blessing and a curse.

Starting her medical education remotely meant she could spend time with the support system of her family, which she found reassuring.

At the same time, however, she felt removed from the medical community at the Renaissance School of Medicine, which would become her home once the school was able to lift some restrictions.

For Brako, Covid provided a “salient reminder” of why she was studying to become a doctor, helping people with challenges to their health. “It was a constant reminder of why this field is so important.”

Brako appreciated her supportive classmates, who provided helpful links with studying and answered questions.

Despite the unusual beginning, Brako feels like she is “super close” to her fellow graduates.

Brako was thrilled that Dr. Fauci gave the commencement address, as she recalled how CNN was on all the time during the pandemic and he became a “staple in our household.”

Brako will continue her medical training with a residency at Mass General and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, where she will enter a residency in obstetrics and gynecology.

Mahesh Tiwari, meanwhile, already had his feet under him when medical school started four years ago. Tiwari, who is going to be a resident in internal medicine at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, earned his bachelor’s degree at Stony Brook.

He was able to facilitate the transition to Long Island for his classmates, passing along his “love for the area,” recognizing the hidden gems culturally, musically and artistically, he said.

After eight years at Stony Brook, Tiwari suggested he would miss a combination of a world-class research institution with an unparalleled biomedical education. He also enjoyed the easy access to nature and seascapes.

A look back

Until 1980, Stony Brook didn’t have a hospital, which meant that the medical students had to travel throughout the area to gain clinical experience.

“Students were intrepid, traveling all across Long Island, deep into Nassau County, Queens and New York City,” said Wertheim.

In those first years, students learned the craft of medicine in trailers, as they awaited the construction of buildings.

Several graduates of Stony Brook from decades ago who currently practice medicine on Long Island shared their thoughts and perspective on this landmark graduation.

Dr. Sharon Nachman, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, graduated from Stony Brook Medical School in 1983.

In the early years, the students were an “eclectic group who were somewhat different than the typical medical school students,” which is not the case now, Nachman said.

When Nachman joined the faculty at Stony Brook, the medical school didn’t have a division of pediatric infectious diseases. Now, the group has four full time faculty with nurse practitioners.

The medical school, which was renamed the Renaissance School of Medicine in 2018 after more than 100 families at Renaissance Technologies made significant donations, recognizes that research is “part of our mission statement.”

Stony Brook played an important role in a number of medical advances, including Dr. Jorge Benach’s discovery of the organism that causes Lyme Disease.

Stony Brook is “not just a medical school, it’s part of the university setting,” added Nachman. “It’s a hospital, it has multiple specialties, it’s an academic center and it’s here to stay. We’re not just the new kids on the block.”

Departments like interventional radiology, which didn’t exist in the past, are now a staple of medical education.

Dr. David Silberhartz, a psychiatrist in Setauket who graduated in 1980, appreciated the “extraordinary experience” of attending medical school with a range of people from different backgrounds and experiences. He counts three of the members of his class, whom he met his first day, as his best friends.

Silberhartz, who planned to attend commencement activities, described the landmark graduation as a “wonderful celebration.”

Aldustus Jordan III spent 43 years at the medical school, retiring as Associate Dean for Student Affairs in January 2019.

While he had the word “dean” in his title, Jordan suggested that his job was to be a “dad” to medical students, offering them an opportunity to share their thoughts, concerns and challenges.

As the school grew from a low of 18 students to a high of 150 in 2021, Jordan focused on keeping the small town flavor, so students didn’t become numbers.

“I wanted to make sure we kept that homey feeling, despite our growth,” said Jordan.

Jordan suggested that all medical schools recognize the need for doctors not only knowing their craft, but also having the extra touch in human contact.

“We put our money where our mouth is,” Jordan said. “We put a whole curriculum around that” which makes a difference in terms of patient outcomes.

Jordan urged future candidates to any medical school, including Stony Brook, to speak with people about their experiences and to use interviews as a chance to speak candidly with faculty.

“When you have down time, you have to enjoy the environment, you have to enjoy where you live,” Jordan said.

As for his own choice of doctors, Jordan has such confidence in the education students receive at Stony Brook that he’s not only a former dean, but he’s also a patient.

His primary care physician is a SBU alumni, as is his ophthalmologist.

“If I can’t trust the product, who can?” Jordan asked.

As for Fauci, in addition to encouraging doctors to listen and be prepared to use data to make informed decisions, he also suggested that students find ways to cultivate a positive work life balance.

“Many of you will be in serious and important positions relatively soon,” Fauci said. “There are so many other things to live for and be happy about. Reach for them and relish the joy.”

Anthony S. Fauci, MD, addressing the RSOM graduating Class of 2024. Credit: Arthur Fredericks

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Speaking in a front of a receptive, appreciative and celebratory audience of 125 graduates of the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University who gave him a standing ovation before and after his commencement address, Dr Anthony Fauci, former Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, shared some thoughts on the hard lessons learned from the last four years.

Dr. Fauci currently serves as Distinguished University Professor at the Georgetown University School of Medicine and the McCourt School of Public Policy and also serves as Distinguished Senior Scholar at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

“I speak not only of lessons we have learned that can help us prepare for the next public health challenge, but, more importantly, of lessons that will apply to your future professional and personal experiences that are far removed from pandemic outbreaks,” Fauci said, after complimenting the class on persevering in their training despite the challenges and losses.

To start with, he suggested these new doctors expect the unexpected. In the early phase of the pandemic, the virus revealed multiple secrets, “some of which caught us somewhat by surprise,” Fauci said. “As well prepared as we thought we were, we learned that SARS-Cov2 is often transmitted from people who are infected but have no symptoms.”

Additionally, the virus continually mutated, forming more transmissable variants that caused illness even in those who had already contracted the virus.

“Each revelation not only humbled us, but served as a stark reminder that, when facing novel and unanticipated challenges in life, as you all will I promise, any predictions we might make about what will happen next or how the situation will unfold must always be provisional,” Fauci said.

Dealing with these challenges requires being open-minded and flexible in assessing situations as new information emerges.

He cautioned the new doctors and scientists to beware of the insidious nature of anti science.

Even as doctors have used data and evidence learning to gain new insights and as the stepping stones of science, anti science became “louder and more entrenched over time. This phenomenon is deeply disturbing” as it undermines evidence-based medicine and sends the foundation of the social order down a slippery slope.

Even as science was under attack, so, too, were scientists. “During the past four years, we have witnessed an alarming increase in the mischaracterization, distortion and even vilification of solid evidence-based findings and even of scientists themselves,” Fauci continued.

Mixing with these anti science notions were conspiracy theories, which created public confusion and eroded trust in evidence-based public health principals.

“This became crystal clear as we fought to overcome false rumors about the mRNA Covid vaccines during the roll out” of vaccines which Dr. Peter Igarashi, Dean of the Renaissance School of Medicine estimated in his introduction for Dr. Fauci saved more than 20 million lives in their first year of availability.

“I can confirm today that Bill Gates [the former CEO of Microsoft] and I did not put chips in the Covid vaccines,” Fauci said. “And, no, Covid vaccines are not responsible for more deaths than Covid.”

The worldwide disparagement of scientific evidence is threatening other aspects of public health, he said, as parents are opting out of immunizing their children, which is leading to the recent clusters of measles cases, he added.

Elements of society are “driven by a cacophony of falsehoods, lies and conspiracy theories that get repeated often enough that after a while, they become unchallenged,” he said. That leads to what he described as a “normalization of untruths.”

Fauci sees this happening on a daily basis, propagated by information platforms, social media and enterprises passing themselves off as news organizations. With doctors entering a field in which evidence and data-driven conclusions inform their decisions, they need to “push back on these distortions of truth and reality.”

He appealed to the graduates to accept a collective responsibility not to accept the normalization of untruths passively, which enables propaganda and the core principals of a just social order to begin to erode.

Fauci exhorted students to “seek and listen to opinions that differ from your own” and to analyze information which they have learned to do in medical school.

“Our collective future truly is in your hands,” Fauci said.

Fauci also urged these doctors and scientists to take care of their patients and to advance knowledge for the “good of humankind.”

Shoreham-Wading River High School’s Class of 2023 Commencement ceremony on Friday, June 23. Photo courtesy SWRCSD

The members of the Shoreham-Wading River High School’s Class of 2023 proceeded onto the football field for a celebratory evening of commencement exercises on Friday, June 23.

The students were led by Principal Frank Pugliese and Assistant Principal John Holownia, followed by administrators, Board of Education members and faculty.

STEM Director Dr. Joseph Paolicelli introduced salutatorian Bryan Vogel, who shared memories with his fellow classmates and encouragement to face challenges with confidence and conviction for the future.

Valedictorian Anja Minty performed DeBussey’s “Arabesque No. 1” before Director of Humanities Nicole Waldbauer read a prepared statement introducing Anja’s many accomplishments. Anja then took the stage and shared her farewell address and words of inspiration. 

Superintendent of Schools Gerard Poole then asked students to face their families and thank them before sharing his remarks. He applauded the many local, county and state championships, academic recognitions, successful technical education pathways, music achievements and more that the Class of 2023 has attained. 

He also encouraged students to have a roadmap for the future, but if the roadmap has some bumps or derailments, to regroup, pivot and improvise. He highlighted the great opportunities offered to students in the district and underscored the foundational skills that will lead to future success. 

Pugliese then thanked all the students who took part in the ceremony, the first responders and the exceptional academic seniors. He shared his enthusiasm for the future of the students after their primary education in SWR. 

The diplomas were presented by BOE President Katie Andersen, Vice President Henry Perez and trustees Michael Lewis, Robert Rose, Thomas Sheridan, James Smith and Meghan Tepfenhardt.

Newly-graduated Royals display their diplomas. Photo courtesy PJSD

The Earl L. Vandermeulen High School Class of 2023 received their diplomas during the 129th commencement exercises on Friday, June 23. 

Principal John Ruggero welcomed those in attendance while Student Organization President Lola Idir led the Pledge of Allegiance. The string orchestra then performed the National Anthem, followed by congratulatory words from Student Organization President Amy Whitman. 

Members of Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s Class of 2023 during the school’s 129th Commencement ceremony. Photo courtesy PJSD

Dr. Frank Andriani, father of student Frank Andriani, gave a heartfelt address acknowledging the district for providing opportunities to students and preparing them for the world once they graduate.

Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan then addressed the Class of 2023. Class President Alexa Ayotte presented the traditional class gift, and Valedictorian Olivia Schlegel shared kind words with her fellow graduates.

Ruggero then presented the Class of 2023 to Superintendent Schmettan and Board of Education President Ellen Boehm. Each student walked to the podium for their diploma while Ruggero highlighted their personal achievements and postgraduation plans. 

The newly-graduated students then stood and tossed their caps in the air, marking a successful conclusion to their high school years.

Smithtown High School West celebrated 334 seniors as its graduating class of 2023 on June 22.

“You have left a legacy for future students,” said Smithtown Central School District Superintendent Mark Secaur as he addressed the class with the threat of rain giving way to the bright futures of the new graduates.

Smithtown High School West Principal John Coady told the class, “The best days are ahead of you, not behind you” and encouraged the students to be a positive influence and “always respect the values of others.”

Stephen Jung, Smithtown High School West Honor Speaker, spoke to the class about overcoming the pandemic, while saying, “Each of you earned a right to be here and that deserves its own applause.”

Senior Class President Stephen Hunt IV reminded the class to find their passion and “always remember you are your own person.”