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Class of 2016

File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

It’s hard to believe that another school year has ended and the high school class of 2016 is in the midst of moving on. This class, like all classes before them, has made a powerful impact upon all of our communities. There are a record number of seniors going off to Ivy League colleges on scholarships. There are an exceptional number of young people going off to the service academies and enlisting in the military.

This year’s high school seniors have made their mark scholastically as well as athletically. An impressive number of sports teams have made it to the states with significant numbers bringing state titles home to their high schools in our local communities.

However, what is most impressive about the Class of 2016 is how many seniors, in addition to all their school activities, are involved in community service. Yes, many school districts have a mandatory requirement, but many don’t. More significant is the number of students who complete their obligatory number of hours and continue to give of themselves without expecting anything in return and the countless number of seniors who give of themselves with no compelling obligation.

This past year there have been so many different campaigns to help the sick, the poor and the terrorized, not to mention the various specialized needs of people who have suffered terrible tragedies due to hate, violence and terror.  So many of our seniors from the Class of 2016 gave from their hearts.

It is a commitment to community service in the spirit of inclusiveness that is refreshing, especially since we live in a world that seems more grounded in narcissism and self-centeredness, rather than thinking about others first, especially those in need.

Seniors, as you continue your journey, do not let the social filters of our time enable bigotry, exclusivity and social injustice. Showing compassion and understanding rooted in justice is more significant than a science formula. These are difficult lessons to learn because they demand that you risk all that you are now for what you could become tomorrow.

Teach love to those who know hate and let that love embrace you as you continue in the world.

Look around you! We are living in a very challenging world. A new revolution is afoot. Your generation is moving away from the indifference and complacency of yesterday and moving toward a new idealism of freedom and responsibility. Despite the recent act of terrorism and hate in Orlando, Florida, where 50 innocent young people were gunned down because of hate, it still gives me hope that tomorrow can and will be better.

As you graduate from high school, keep these simple thoughts in mind: May you discover enough goodness in others to believe in a world of peace and to work for peace grounded in justice.

May a kind word, a reassuring touch and a warm smile be yours every day of your life. Remember the sunshine when the storm seems unending. Teach love to those who know hate and let that love embrace you as you continue in the world.

May the teachings of those you admire become a part of you so that you may call upon them. It is the content and quality of who you are that is important, not merely the actions you take.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, or stop at the introduction. Read it through, seek the meaning and messages it offers for life, for everyone’s life is sacred, and even those who are different from you or whom you do not like.

Be more inclusive than exclusive. Don’t be blinded by those who tend to use shame, blame and guilt to shackle people down and divide them. Set people free with your respect and nonjudgmental way.

May your moral compass be grounded in respect for all human beings, no matter what their color, their race, their creed or their sexual orientation. May this compass guide you on a path that is committed to working for peace and social justice. As Gandhi once said, “Be the change you hope for in the world.”

Congratulations graduates of the Class of 2016. Thanks for making the world a little richer, a little brighter and a better place to be!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Comsewogue High School held its graduation ceremony on the football field on June 23. Nearly 300 seniors that made up the class of 2016 were recognized on a perfect summer evening. Speakers included District Superintendent Joe Rella, School Board President John Swenning, New York State Sen. Chuck Schumer (D), senior class President Julia Diaz, Valedictorian Casey Nevins and Salutatorian Eric Ranaldi.

Friday marked the 122nd graduation ceremony at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School in Port Jefferson School District. The commencement ceremony for the roughly 80 members of the class of 2016 was held on June 24, at the fields in front of the school on a sunny summer evening.

Friends, family and members of the community, like Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant were at the ceremony. Senior Class President William Witrock presented the class gift; two televisions to be installed in the school’s fitness center for future students to enjoy while using cardio equipment.

Valedictorian Shannon Christ, salutatorian Marianna Spentzos and Student Organization President Jessica Gray from the class of 2016 also made speeches during the graduation ceremony.

Mount Sinai held its Class of 2016 commencement ceremony on Saturday evening, June 25.

The bleachers were filled to capacity as Superintendent Gordon Brosdal congratulated the students and offered some advice.

Mount Sinai staff members and members of the school board handed out diplomas and cheered on the students, while valedictorian Patrick Hanaj and salutatorian Justine Quan gave poignant speeches. The band and choir performed to add to the festivities, and students were all smiles as they walked up on stage to receive their diplomas. The now former Mustangs then tossed their caps toward the sky in celebration.


Shoreham-Wading River high school held its Class of 2016 commencement ceremony Saturday morning, June 25.

After listening to speeches from valedictorian Kelvin Ma and salutatorian Nicholas Maritato, students were all smiles as they walked up onto the stage and received their diplomas.

Doves were released in honor of Thomas Cutinella after all the graduates’ names were called, and as the ceremony commenced, students turned their tassels before tossing their caps into the air.

Rocky Point High School held it’s Class of 2016 commencement ceremony on the grounds of the football field on Friday, June 24.

After speeches by students and local officials, including Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring, class speaker Daniel Infranco and salutatorian Matthew Brewer, students were awarded various scholastic and athletic awards, as well as scholarships, before listening to valedictorian James Gohn’s speech and lining up to be handed their diplomas.

Once each student had a diploma in hand, they turned their tassels to the side before tossing them into the air in celebration of their hard work and achievements throughout their high school journeys.


Miller Place students from the Class of 2016 celebrated their high school careers during the commencement ceremony on Friday, June 24.

Seniors walked under the Panthers blow-up as they made their way onto the field, and listened to speeches from local officials as well as the class valedictorian, Elizabeth Whitlow, and salutatorian, Clara Tucker, before being handed their diplomas.

Panthers pride was on full display with both on-field decoration from the school and music from the band, and by students, who personalized their caps and sang songs of their now alma mater, before tossing their caps in the air in celebration of their hard work that led them to this point.


Smithtown High School East held their 101st graduation on Wednesday, June 22 at the school’s football field. About 400 graduates from the class of 2016 were honored during a ceremony that featured speeches by Principal Edwin Thompson, Superintendent James Grossane and students Benjamin Aaron Dolowich and Julia Esposito. The Senior Class Concert Choir sang The Star Spangled Banner to begin the ceremony and “With a Little Help From My Friends” as a tribute to parents in attendance, which is a tradition at the school.

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By Elana Glowatz

Comsewogue and Port Jefferson high schools have named the students at the top of their classes.

Casey Nevins photo from the school district
Casey Nevins photo from the school district

Port Jefferson Station’s Casey Nevins is the valedictorian at Comsewogue High School, with a 100.90 GPA. She is headed to Lafayette College in the fall, though she is unsure of what field she will study. During her time at Comsewogue, she has participated in many clubs, as well as in theater, music and volunteering programs.

She is a member of the National Honor Society, English Honor Society, Science Research Club and Tapestry Women’s Choir, all while serving as treasurer of Drama Club, president of Bringing Unity Through Youth Club and director of Coffee House Charity Production.

“Balancing a myriad of activities along with a demanding academic curriculum is the essence of what Casey is about,” according to her guidance counselor, Brenda Bell. “Casey has a radiant smile and a heart of gold which she shares with her peers, teachers, and community.  She will undoubtedly bring her strong leadership, academic discipline and abundant values to all of her future endeavors.”

Eric Ranaldi photo from the school district
Eric Ranaldi photo from the school district

The Comsewogue salutatorian, Eric Ranaldi, is heading on to Baruch College to study economics. During his time in high school, he played saxophone in the music program and has participated in numerous clubs and societies, including National Honor Society, Jazz Band, Bringing Unity Through Youth Club, varsity tennis, French Honor Society, Pep Band and Tri-M Music Honor Society. Bell said he “has a distinct drive and allegiance to his studies coupled with a witty sense of humor that endears him to those around him. His friendly, global, open-minded, and analytical nature will lead him to great success in both his personal and professional life.”

Shannon Christ photo from the school district
Shannon Christ photo from the school district

Over in Port Jefferson, valedictorian Shannon Christ made her mark at Earl L. Vandermeulen High School with a 101.02 GPA. She was named an AP Scholar with Distinction, participated on the varsity cross country and varsity winter and spring track teams, and is on the executive board of the National Honor Society, an officer of the Tri-M Honor Society and a member of Science Olympiads. Outside of the school district, she has danced ballet, tap, jazz and point.

“She is an extraordinary student who gives her best effort in and out of the classroom each day,” the school district said.

In the fall, Christ will head to Fairfield University to study mathematics, with a minor in secondary education.

Marianna Spentzos photo from the school district
Marianna Spentzos photo from the school district

The salutatorian, Marianna Danae Spentzos, came in a close second with a 100.59 GPA and is also an AP Scholar with Distinction.

She is a member of the Interact Club, the Tri-M Honor Society and the National Honor Society, and an All-League athlete as the varsity volleyball captain in her senior year and a member of the varsity track and field team.

“She is an excellent student who has consistently earned top grades,” her district said.

Spentzos will study biology and marine science at the University of Miami.