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By Father Frank Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

June is the time of year when school ends and summer begins. It’s a time of year when our high school seniors graduate and prepare to transition into young adults. Some will go away to college; others will prepare to enter the workforce. All of our graduates will hopefully deal with all of the challenges of change and transition in a positive way.

The hard question to answer is are these graduates ready and prepared for the new challenges before them? The pandemic has definitely impaired many of these extraordinary young men and women.

However, despite the challenges and the lack of holistic services in the area of mental health and addiction services, many of these graduates have begun to navigate the difficult road before them with extraordinary character and integrity.

Despite the polarizing landscape they must navigate, the class of 2022 are genuinely beacons of hope. So many of them have courageously challenged the hypocrisy of our present age. They have reached out to the most vulnerable and marginalized among us.

A growing number of high school students who have graduated and have been victimized by the mass school shootings that have ripped at the soul of America have become prophetic voices in our midst. They have worked tirelessly to raise people’s awareness that sensible gun laws don’t infringe on our Second Amendment rights, but rather remind us that all life is sacred and we need to protect all!

Graduates of 2022, thank you for reminding all of us that hope lives in our midst and that your class is going to make a profound difference in our world! Thank you for reminding us that all people matter, no matter what their race, religion, sexual orientation, or economic status.

Class of 2022, may you always have the courage despite our social climate of divisiveness to build bridges instead of walls, to create a world where love, forgiveness and inclusiveness are foundational.

One of your classmates this graduation season did not walk with his fellow seniors because he was killed due to gun violence. His high school career was marked by compassion and service to others. He constantly talked to his mom about wanting to go into public service after college and trying to make a difference in the world. He won’t have that opportunity but many of you could choose that career path. We desperately need you; our democracy is moving towards autocracy; we need your help to reclaim the soul of our nation and protect our freedoms.

May you always remember hope does not abandon us, we abandon hope! Class of 2022 —  always be men and women of hope!

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

More than 7,600 Stony Brook University students filed into Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium to take part in the 2022 Degree Commencement Celebration ceremony Friday, May 20.

The students were part of one of the largest graduating classes in the university’s 65-year history. They were awarded a combined 7,610 degrees and certificate completions. The Class of 2022 included students from 68 countries and 45 states, and the students ranged from 19 to 71. In addition to the in-person event, it was live streamed.

During the ceremony, film director Todd Haynes received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree. Over the past four decades, he has taken part in several films and television projects as a film director, screenwriter and producer. He has won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for his work on “Poison,” an American science fiction drama horror film that he also wrote. Haynes is a longtime friend of Christine Vachon, founder of Stony Brook’s MFA in Film, and has collaborated often with her and guest lectured to students in the program.

Haynes had advice for the graduates.

“I just wanted to acknowledge the remarkable teachers in my life, who I feel gave to me the tools to engage with a history and a culture that contained all the contradictions and many of the challenges that we confront today, that you guys confront today,” he said. “They helped me feel inspired to engage with those challenges, not to retreat or even impose my own solutions, but to dig deeper, to raise questions and respond to them in my own way, which is what I have the unique privilege of doing as a filmmaker. I wish for every student here today those kinds of openness, those kinds of tools as you guys all step out into this wild world. You deserve to feel as optimistic and inspired as I did at your age and know that you embody all our very best hopes and finest dreams.”

Among the speakers at the event were SBU President Maurie McInnis, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and student speaker for the Class of 2022 Ahmed Syed, a biology major. During his speech, Syed told his fellow SBU students about his parents who moved to the U.S. from India when they were in their 30s. Syed’s three brothers also graduated from SBU, and his older sibling, who is now a doctor in Florida, was the student speaker when he graduated from the university.  

“Stony Brook wasn’t just a college our family went to, it’s been our legacy,” Syed said. “Understand that my parents came here with nothing and now all four of their sons are college graduates. Not just four college graduates, but four Seawolves. This is nothing more than a testament to what Stony Brook stands for.”

After acknowledging exceptional students in the graduating class, McInnis had praise for all the members who she said inspired her and others.

“As you join Stony Brook’s more than 200,000 alumni across the globe, I hope you’ll stay connected to this unique and passionate community,” the university president said. “I hope you’ll continue to see Stony Brook as a second home, one that celebrates all you accomplish, strengthens your critical perspectives and supports your most ambitious endeavors.”

She quoted Jackson Pollock who once said, “Each age finds its own technique.”

“With the Class of 2022, it is very clear to me that your technique is to maintain a truly creative and collaborative spirit that will be your path forward,” McInnis said. “I know you will move together as individuals with a sense of discovery, ambition, innovation and artistry. Stony Brook University is incredibly proud of all you have achieved here — and all you will go on to create.”

The Elwood-John H. Glenn High School Class of 2021 celebrated the culmination of four years of hard work at their graduation ceremony June 25. On a beautiful Friday evening, seniors received their diplomas and concluded their time as high school students.

Valedictorian Rithika Narayan reflected on the resiliency of the Class of 2021 and shared inspiring messages for the future.

“I urge you to turn your departures into arrivals. Cherish who and what you’ve loved and learned at John Glenn, both academically and personally, and tuck them into your luggage for the next stop on your journey,” she said. 

Salutatorian Daniel Rourke and Class of 2021 Secretary Kerri Giambruno also spoke, offering words of encouragement to their fellow peers.


The Harborfields High School Class of 2021 were celebrated by family, friends, community members, faulty, staff and administrators at the school’s graduation ceremony on June 26. As the graduates processed on the field in the classic Harborfields green and white, joined by Principal Timothy Russo, Superintendent of Schools Rory Manning and members of the board of education, the crowd cheered enthusiastically.

“Much in the same way your family has cared for you, we have also,” Manning said. “The staff of Harborfields has been your second family for the last 13 years and we selfishly don’t want you to go, and why would we? You proved to the world that you were capable of the unimageable, and despite countless odds against you, you thrived.”

Principal Timothy Russo initiated a special tribute to Gabby Cava, a beloved member of the Class of 2021 who passed away in January 2020 from cancer. Gabby’s family was in attendance to accept the first diploma from Russo. 

Before continuing presenting diplomas to the graduates, Russo took some time to commend the Class of 2021 for their perseverance and ability to succeed in the face of huge challenges. 

“You are an incredible group who will be missed by many as you go onto achieve whatever greatness is coming your way,” he said. “Your enthusiasm, kindness and respect for Harborfields has led us through a challenging year, and I thank you for being the young men and women you are.”

Photo from PJSD

With proud parents, siblings, friends, teachers, administrators, and members of the board of education, the Earl L. Vandermeulen High School Class of 2021 received their diplomas during the 127th annual commencement exercises on June 25.

Principal Eric Haruthunian welcomed everyone to the momentous ceremony. Grace Keegan led in the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the National Anthem, which was performed by valedictorian Peggy Yin.

Photo from PJSD

Words of wisdom and congratulatory remarks on the accomplishments of the students were offered by Superintendent of Schools Jessica Schmettan, Haruthunian, and parent speaker Stephen Rabeno, father of twin graduates Mattea and Michela Rabeno. 

He shared an inspiring story of his daughters’ growing up in Port Jefferson and referred to Robert Fulghum’s “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” as a reflection of the kindness and acceptance of students in the school community.

Yin and salutatorian Massimo Cipriano shared memories with their fellow classmates and thanked family members and teachers for the continued encouragement for all students to succeed in the small school community.

Haruthunian then presented the class of 2021 to Schmettan and Board of Education President Ellen Boehm before inviting each student to the podium and highlighting their high school careers and future plans. 

He was assisted by Assistant Principal Kevin Bernier in handing out the diplomas. The students then stood and tossed their caps in the air in celebration of becoming the newest graduates of the high school.

The Northport High School class of 2021 celebrated their graduation on Saturday, June 26, alongside their peers and families at Tiger Stadium. Seniors gathered to be recognized for their accomplishments and receive their diplomas following four years of hard work. 

Principal Daniel Danbusky reflected on the unique circumstances that students were working under this year and emphasized that he hopes this experience will teach students about how to rethink what they have learned and adapt to the situations that lie in front of them. 

“As we have moved through the last four years, I hope your dreams have been realized and have come alive,” Danbusky said. “As you leave us, I charge you to find problems that need to be solved, rethink their solutions and allow pursuit to help shape you as you mature.”

 Salutatorian Griffin Crafa and valedictorian Ian Kaish spoke to their classmates as well, providing words of encouragement and reflection, both on their time at Northport High School and looking ahead into the future.

“The unknown can be terrifying, but it can also be exhilarating,” Kaish said. “We have learned this from our time in Northport High School.”

He added, “It’s very easy to get caught up in wanting to succeed, but the only real way to succeed is by learning to embrace the journey and discovery.”

Performances by the Northport High School choir ensued as students tossed their caps to commemorate their last moments as high schoolers and celebrated the beginning of their next chapter.

Commack seniors and their families headed to the Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium Stadium at Stony Brook University June 25 for their graduation ceremony.

The Commack School District left words of advice for the graduates on the district’s. website.

“Take advantage of all the opportunities that life presents you; push yourself out of your comfort zone every once in awhile; continue to surround yourself with a strong support system while never hesitating to lift others up when they need it; and be sure to utilize these very important words every single day — please, thank you, and I’m sorry. Stay curious, stay humble, stay grounded, and most importantly — stay true to yourself!”

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Photo from SWRSD

Graduating from Shoreham-Wading River High School, Mika Misawa will be leaving with the honor of being named valedictorian and a 103.7 weighted GPA. 

She will be part of the incoming freshman class at Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences this fall. 

As a member of the varsity girls tennis team, Journalism Club, President of the Global Awareness club, editor-in-chief of the Global Awareness Club’s monthly newsletter, co-president of Women in Science and Engineering, Mathletes and the Tri-M Music honor society, Mika has always had an immense involvement in her school and community.

In her high school career, Mika took 13 AP courses, four honors courses and a college level course through Stony Brook University. 

Photo from SWRSD

As a brilliant mathematics student, Mika was also named a Long Island Young Scholar of Mathematics by the Institute of Creative Problem Solving for Gifted and Talented Students.

Her enthusiasm for succeeding in school translated into her music career as well, as she was selected for the National Association for Music Education All-Eastern Honors Ensemble Orchestra and the New York State School Music Association All-State Festival. 

Alongside Mika, valedictorian Owen Beran will be graduating also with a weighted GPA of 103.7.

As the team captain of the golf team and a member of the lacrosse team, Owen was able to be successful in all realms of his high school career. He has taken nine AP courses, four honors courses, and is the vice president of the National Honor Society.

However, his involvement doesn’t stop there. He was also the class of 2021 treasurer and a member of the Mathletes, Natural Helpers, the Robotics Club and the Student Advisory group. 

Not only was Owen heavily involved with his school, but his community as well. His community involvement includes volunteering for St. John’s Church Gathering Inn, Thomas Cutinella Memorial Patriot Run, Lax Out Cancer, Spirit’s Promise Equine Rescue, and Nexus-Animal Outreach.

With a passion for helping his community and furthering himself academically, Owen plans to attend the United States Naval Academy, where he will be majoring in nuclear engineering. 

Daniel Julian has been named salutatorian, graduating with a weighted GPA of 103.4. 

Photo from SWRSD

Discovering his passion for science and mathematics in tenth grade after taking an AP chemistry course, Daniel knew Stony Brook University’s STEM program would be his first-choice college.

“I chose chemistry as my major as a result of my love and ability for the subject and my love for science and mathematics as a whole,” he said. 

In the near future, Julian aspires to become an educator or researcher in the field of nuclear science and plans on pursuing graduate work in the sciences or science education. 

Additionally, the high school gave Daniel an opportunity to pursue his other passion, music. As a skilled jazz player, Julian played in the high school instrumental jazz ensemble in grades 9-12 for SCMEA All-County.

He was also selected as the baritone sax player and an alternate alto sax player with the NYSSMA All-State Instrumental Jazz Ensemble.

“For me, school concerts and other musical performances were special to me as playing in the Shoreham-Wading River High School’s bands gave me opportunities to contribute to my community through music and express myself artistically,” Daniel said. 

Photo from SWRSD

Some of his special experiences At Shoreham-Wading River included working on a research project involving epigenetics with one of his most influential AP biology teachers, Dr. Neff. 

Looking forward to his fall semester in Stony Brook to study chemistry, he is excited to focus on the subjects he is most passionate about on a more advanced level. 

“I enjoyed my time in high school taking multiple classes in various subjects, but I am looking forward to having a more specific focus on math and science as they are where my passion lies,” Daniel said.

Graduation(Darin Reed photo.)

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Congratulations are in order for this past weekend’s activities. First and most importantly, my youngest grandchild graduated from high school last Friday. What a lovely milestone for him, one not to be missed by us. 

We decided to drive there, the 11-hour trip notwithstanding, rather than deal with the inevitable crowds and COVID risks and restrictions at the airport. But so much more had to be factored into our plans. Why, I wondered, would a school arrange for graduation during Memorial Day weekend? This was an especially puzzling question as reports were warning of major travel activity by car and plane. Over 37 million people were expected to venture more than 50 miles away from home, a 60% increase above last year, with a big post-pandemic breakout looming.

Clearly this situation called for some careful strategizing. First we called and secured reservations at a hotel near the school. This was going to be more than a one-day trip. That was the easiest part. Then we decided to start right after work on Tuesday evening since that would probably beat the traffic leaving the Island for the weekend. We would drive as far as we could before stopping at a roadside lodging for the night, which we figured would give us a good head start on the trip for the following day.

Next we thought to pick up some sandwiches for dinner in the car on our way out of town. We ordered those in advance, as well as the much loved chocolate chip cookies from the local bakery to bring my family. And we would stop for a package that a friend, who lives near my grandson, requested we bring to her.

We followed the plan.

After five hours of night driving with blissfully no traffic, we saw a sign for a familiar hotel at the next exit and drove off the highway feeling quite ready for a good sleep. Our first problem was that, in our haze, we couldn’t immediately find the hotel. After a bit of exploring and a U-turn, we did and pulled into a parking lot that looked ominously full. When we tried the front door, it was locked.

Fortunately, as we stood there in a fatigued stupor, a worker at the hotel came along and opened the door for us. She then called to the clerk behind the front desk, who had appeared from nowhere, and who told us what we feared: no rooms available. She directed us to the next hotel down the highway.

“But wait,” the first worker said as she scooted around behind the desk, “let me look at the register.” After several minutes, she found an unfulfilled reservation for a room on the fourth floor and offered it to us. Relief!

The next day, we happily arrived at our destination by mid-afternoon. I don’t have to tell you how wonderful it was to come together with family we had not seen in over a year, to hug them and note how the children had grown, and talk with them in person for hours. Thursday, other members of the extended family arrived, everyone in a happy mood, and Friday, under a beautiful blue sky, we all went to the commencement and cheered mightily as our grandson walked on stage, shook the president’s hand and received his sheepskin. 

We, of course, celebrated the rest of the day and well into the evening. It felt a little unreal to be casually chatting together after the year of pandemic isolation, something we would otherwise, in earlier times, so taken for granted.

Now came the tricky part: when to leave for the drive home through the midst of the holiday weekend. We had decided on Saturday, hoping that was a good travel day, when most people would already have gotten to their destinations and before they would have started to return. Picking up some provisions for the car ride, we filled the gas tank and left in the morning for home. There was never any serious traffic along the route. Score one for strategy, another for luck. And another for appreciation and gratitude for all that we would have simply accepted pre-pathogen as our due.

A scene from Stony Brook University's May 19 9 a.m. graduation ceremony. Photo by Greg Catalano

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Graduation 2021 — what a year! In the midst of this horrific pandemic, so many of you have had the courage, despite so many obstacles, to stay the course and graduate with distinction from high school, college and graduate school.

This year has been plagued by so much sickness, death, and divisiveness. Yet, so many of you have volunteered to help those in need by your commitment to community service.

Graduates, as you continue your journey, do not let the social filters of our time enable bigotry, exclusivity and social injustice. Always speak up and work for human rights; try to realize that being human and sensitive to others is more important than any successful academic record. 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.

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 the complacency of yesterday and is moving toward a new idealism of freedom and responsibility. It’s happening around the world, especially in the Middle East and in Africa. It’s not happening among the political elite, but among our young, our students, your peers. It gives me hope that tomorrow will be better.

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.

Photo by Greg Catalano

Let 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 your character 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. Everyone’s life is sacred, even those who are different from you or whom you do not like.

Don’t be blinded by those who tend to use shame, blame, guilt and religion to shackle people down and divide them; set people free with your respect and nonjudgmental way.

We live in a world that is very deceptive. Don’t let the corrupt political rhetoric of our time blind your eyes, impair your hearing or shackle your dreaming. As you graduate, the social landscape that you must navigate is treacherous; be prepared to sail stormy waters, but don’t lose heart, draw on the goodness that lives within and the goodness of others to stay the course.

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 that you wish to see in the world.”

Congratulations graduates of 2021! Thanks for making the world a little richer, a little brighter, a little more hopeful and a better place to be! 

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