Graduations

By Andrea Paldy

The Harry Potter-themed façade in front of Ward Melville High School proclaimed, “Let the Magic Begin.” And at 11 a.m. on June 30 it did.

Led by valedictorian Elizabeth Wang and salutatorian Kelsey Ge, 546 seniors in green and gold emerged from the high school as students for the last time.

Sunday’s commencement exercises for Three Village’s 50th anniversary class were punctuated by a series of firsts.

William Bernhard, who gave his first commencement address as Ward Melville principal, officially recognized the district’s first graduating class — known as the “forgotten class” because it didn’t graduate on Ward Melville grounds. Bernhard awarded proclamations and honorary diplomas to class of 1969 graduates Joellen Fehrs McNamara, Cathy Haenlein and Elizabeth Toye Aktas.

The class of 2019 also left its mark on the festivities. By bestowing bells for Ward Melville’s iconic clock tower, the graduating class gave a gift that would be “heard loud and clear” and that said, “We were here. We were important,” student government president Lauren Walters said during the presentation. The bells chimed for the first (and second) time during the graduation ceremony, bridging the past, the present and the future.

Bernhard’s wish for the graduating seniors was a touching one. He said that he hopes that after going on to the military or to college and eventually into the workforce that the graduates will someday rejoin the Three Village community and raise their families here.

And when they hear the bells again, Bernhard hopes they’ll say, “That’s Ward Melville High School. That’s where my roots are. That’s where I made my lifelong friends. That’s where I got my wings — ready to soar and succeed in life.”

Newfield High School held it’s commencement ceremony June 29.

After the “The Star Spangled Banner”, doves were released, and  Valedictorian Loui Chen and salutatorian Anaya Zaineb delivered their speeches.

Mount Sinai hosted its graduation June 28. Mount Sinai valedictorian Isaac Kisten and salutatorian Kenneth Wei both spoke at the ceremony.

All photos by Bob Savage.

In Port Jefferson, graduates shared in the late June celebrations, braving the heat and humidity June 28 to grab their diplomas.

As the outgoing superintendent, Casciano thanked his colleagues as he prepared to leave the district in October in order to aid the new superintendent Jessica Schmettan.

“The class of 2019 will really be missed,” he said. “Everything you have done has been a demonstration of commitment and the pursuit of excellence.”

In addition, the Berger family received an honorary diploma in honor of their son Dylan, who died in 2016.

Reid Biondo, the Student Organization president, who will soon be attending the University of Virginia for economics and science, told his fellow graduating seniors they would need to look to themselves and their values as they move away from school.

“I don’t need to tell everyone the values they already know, I only ask that in the upcoming years they uphold their values with dedication and action,” he said. “Everyone can talk, but few will act.”

On June 29, Centereach High School held its 2019 commencement ceremony under sunny skies.
The Centereach Fire Department was on hand for the presentation of colors, while Faiza Syed delivered the valedictorian speech and Samantha Cotes the salutatory address.

Shoreham-Wading River graduating seniors celebrated commencement June 28 under the cloud of the recent death of Melissa Marchese, a high school senior and softball star athlete who was killed in a car crash only a few weeks before graduation.

Heather Marchese, Melissa’s sister, accepted her diploma on her sister’s behalf.

Remarks were made by valedictorian Mahdi Rashidzada and salutatorian Katlynn McGivney.

Rocky Point hosted its commencement ceremony June 28. Photo by David Luces

Rocky Point hosted its graduation ceremony June 28 where graduating seniors braved an early summer heat wave to get their diplomas.

All Photos by David Luces

Miller Place seniors accepted their diplomas away from home June 26, with the commencement ceremony instead hosted at Stony Brook University.

All photos by Bill Landon.

There was much finality to this year’s school graduations at Comsewogue school district. As high school seniors got ready to leave for new horizons, superintendents Joe Rella will soon be leaving his position. 

At Comsewogue High School, as the evening sun crept toward the horizon June 26

, blocking in the football field with the cooling shade of trees, as the students were graduating so was Rella, or at least that is how he said he saw it.

Rella was in for his own surprise, as he was brought on stage alongside incoming superintendent Jennifer Quinn and members of the school board. In front of the stage, graduates held up a sign reading Dr. Joseph V. Rella Performing Arts Center. Quinn announced the high school auditorium would now be sporting Rella’s name.

“Clearly you’re a lot smarter than I am. It took you four years to graduate high school, it took me almost 26,” Rella said, speaking to the students with a 2019 tassel on his hat. “Remember, wherever you go and whatever you do, you will always be one of us.”

Steven Nielsen, who lost his 17-year-old son James from a rare form of cancer a little less than a year ago, spoke to the graduating class about his son and what values he could share even after his untimely death.

“I think James is a good inspiration of how to live,” he said. “He was an amazing person, he was smart, he was handsome, he was extremely kind and unbelievably empathetic. Remember that, be kind, use that as an example. Think of other people in everything that you do.” 

Underneath each of the graduates’ chairs, stuck into the rough metal seats, was a Pokémon card. These, Nielsen said, were there to represent each of them had the opportunity to “evolve.”

He and his wife Jean, both teachers in the Comsewogue School District, accepted a diploma in honor of their son, with Steven Nielsen holding the cap and gown his son would have worn to graduation.

To cap off Comsewogue’s graduation ceremony, as the scenery got dark, fireworks rose above the trees of a distant field, and all the newly graduated students stared up at the sky. Unknown to high school principal Joe Coniglione, the field lights would take several minutes to warm up, and so the graduates cheered in the dark, hats flying through the air like tasseled stars.

The cars lined up along the drive to Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, and besides the sounds of running motors, the graduating seniors could express nothing but awe. The entire front face of the high school was dressed in a shawl of ’90s and early 2000s nostalgia. Above the entrance, dressed on a large orange blimp calling back to the classic Nickelodeon channel logo, was a sign reading Royalodeon. 

The parents of the Port Jeff graduates and members of the prom committee spent hour upon hour of their own time to help construct the pieces to the prom in the months leading up to graduation, and the entire final construction, bringing it to the high school, was done over the previous weekend.

Port Jefferson residents got to experience their efforts the evening of July 1, before the students saw it for the first time. Inside was a splattering of ’90s cartoons, from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” to “The Wild Thornberrys” to “Rugrats,” and the entire dining area designed around “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Lanterns were dressed like jellyfish, hanging from the gym ceiling, and to one side a fully stocked glass case filled with candy was accompanied by cardboard stands of the characters from “Drake & Josh.”

Students arrived awed, not only by the design of the prom but also the number of parents who came to watch their kids walk the red carpet. Kids came ferried in sports cars, but some came in more outlandish style, arriving via boat, the Port Jefferson Jitney, a Qwik Rides Car and even a rickshaw.