Class of 2020

Port Jefferson School District hosts two separate graduation ceremonies Aug. 1. Photo by Kyle Barr

The members of the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School’s Class of 2020 received their diplomas in two separate, well-orchestrated ceremonies that signified the school’s 126th commencement exercises on Aug. 1.

The Pledge of Allegiance, led by Student Organization vice president Hana Ali, was followed by “The Star-Spangled Banner” performed by Rachel Park. Both high school principal Eric Haruthunian and Student Organization president Dylan Dugourd welcomed everyone to the two morning events.

Congratulatory remarks and words of praise and inspiration were presented by Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan and parent Richard Righi, father of graduating senior Katelynne Righi. Senior Class President James Marci presented the class gift fit for the current time and to honor the community: a donation to both Mather Hospital and St. Charles Hospital, noting that many of the students who grew up in the community were born at St. Charles.

The top two students, valedictorian Christine Iasso and salutatorian Kyle Onghai also addressed their fellow classmates, sharing memories, reflections on their primary education, grateful words to teachers and family members, and words of advice for their fellow graduates.

“We all have the power to make the changes needed to create the brightest future our generation can enjoy,” said Iasso, who encouraged her peers to appreciate the planet and one another as they will have the opportunity to affect the lives of all the people they will interact with in the future. The valedictorian will major in sustainable agriculture and food systems at the University of California, Davis and Onghai will attend UCLA to major in mathematics.

Haruthunian then presented the Class of 2020 to Schmettan and Board of Education President Ellen Boehm before he called each student to the podium and, as is tradition, highlighted their high school careers and future plans. As they walked to the podium, they were handed their diplomas by Assistant Principal Kevin Bernier. The Class of 2020 then stood and tossed their caps in the air in celebration of becoming the newest graduates of the high school.

Text by the Port Jefferson School District and verified by reporter.

Miller Place School District Hosted five separate graduation ceremonies throughout the day July 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

Waiting to see if New York would eventually change its restrictions on graduations, of a max 150 people per event, Miller Place School District finally held its commencement ceremonies July 24 at the high school football field, its scorebord emblazoned with 20:20. 

Five separate ceremonies were conducted throughout the day, and though rain drizzled on and off in the morning hours, students sat through hour long ceremonies while spaced across the field. The 9 a.m. group of graduate listen to inspiring words by salutatorian Larry Davis and valedictorian Joseph Bisiani before each individually walked up to receive their diplomas. 

METRO photo

School districts and their students have taken the lead when it comes to a new normal, and perhaps it’s incumbent upon us to follow their lead in our regular lives.

As the coronavirus pandemic progressed, it became apparent to high schools and colleges that the end of the year wasn’t going to be the same for graduates. While institutes of higher learning accepted the fact that an in-person commencement was not going to be possible at the end of May, many school districts held on to the hope that maybe it would happen at the end of June for their students.

But then the pandemic wouldn’t let go.

So high school administrators stepped up to the plate to create alternative events to celebrate the Class of 2020. There were car parades and virtual ceremonies, and when Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he would allow 150 people at commencements starting June 26, expectations increased.

Many schools had hoped that if they waited until mid or late July, commencement would resemble what it did in the past with all the graduates in attendance with their family members, just socially distanced and with attendees wearing masks.

However, it wasn’t to be. The guideline for the maximum number for graduations hasn’t increased. Schools quickly made the decision to stick with in-person graduation but split the Class of 2020 into several sections and held the events over the course of multiple days, allowing graduates to bring two guests each. Many schools had sets of three seats spaced out across football fields and lawns, and when it came time for the teens to get their diplomas, they would walk the stage 6-feet apart.

Students may not have been able to celebrate the day with all of their friends, families may not have been able to interact as usual — sharing memories or flashing a smile to each other — and the energy may have been more subdued, but at these events there was at least some sense of normalcy.

School administrators, valedictorians, salutatorians and class presidents presented their speeches at each event. There were still the laughs, the tears and the pride. There were hellos and even extremely quick photo ops, before attendees were ushered off the field to disinfect the chairs before the next group arrived.

The graduation ceremonies being held across the state are just a small step toward normalcy — however, they are significant. Just like the former high school students are taking baby steps toward their futures, the commencements show that we don’t have to live in fear in our homes if we put some thought in our moves like school districts have and proceed with caution.

As our children fearlessly move toward their futures — a new normal — let’s follow their lead. Just like theirs, our future may not look the same. We now need to reimagine social events and interactions with our family and friends, just like districts did across the state, but they have shown it can be done.

Look how considerate and thoughtful our school districts and students have been and compare that to the mass number of people who refuse to socially distance and do the simple favor of wearing masks when out on the town. We can remain disappointed that our lives have continued to be hampered by rules, but the other option is shown in the many other states that are seeing a staggering rise of cases.

We have learned a lot these past few months, and we still have more to comprehend, but we can take steps toward the future and a new normal. One day we’ll look back and realize how much we have learned and grown with safety at the forefront.

Comsewogue's 2017 senior class tosses its caps. Photo by Jill Webb

Several school districts on the North Shore held off confirming their graduation ceremony dates, waiting to see if New York State would change its limitations on commencements, namely the 150 person limit per event.

That didn’t happen, and now several school districts, including Comsewogue and Miller Place, are planning their ceremonies for the end of this month.

Comsewogue

In a letter to parents signed by high school principal Michael Mosca, the Comsewogue School District announced it will host 3 separate ceremonies for the class of 2020 July 23. A rain date is set for July 24. 

The classes will be broken up by last names with:

Last names A-F at 3 p.m.

Last names G-M at 5:30 p.m.

Last names N-Z at 8 p.m.

Graduatesare asked to come with family in one vehicle at least 30 minutes prior to the scheduled session, and will park facing the high school football field and two large video walls to give a close up view of the commencement ceremony. Graduates will exit the car to check in with faculty, complete a COVID questionnaire and get their line up assignment. Families must remain in their cars, while the ceremony will be broadcasted on FM radio and streamed on the district’s Facebook page.

After the ceremony, graduates will have a formal recessional off the field and go directly to their vehicles, which will then be cleared to allow the next group.

Miller Place

In a letter signed by Superintendent Marianne Cartisano, the Miller Place School District has set two separate graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 July 24 with a raine date of July 25. It will take place outside in the Miller Place High School stadium field.

The names will be broken up by last names as follows:

Last names A-L at 3 p.m.

Last names M-Z at 7 p.m.

Each family is allowed two guests per graduate.

Ceremonies will also be live streamed on the date, and links will be available at a time closer to the commencement date.

“We know this is not the optimum plan for seniors and their families, as we all hoped we would be able to gather and celebrate in one ceremony,” Cartisano wrote in the letter.

More details will be mailed to parents in the near future.

This post will be updated with other school district’s plans for graduations when those become available.

 

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.”