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Graduation

Miller Place seniors walked across the high school track with pride as the band played during the 2018 commencement ceremony June 22.

Superintendent Marianne Cartisano addressed the crowd along with valedictorian Nicole Cirrito and salutatorian Victoria Calandrino. Students and parents celebrated the class of 2018’s achievements and proudly displayed decorated caps that boasted phrases like “there’s nothing holding me back” and a field goal post to represent the steps taken toward reaching the next level of academic and athletic achievement.

The Comsewogue High School Class of 2018 said its goodbyes June 21 at the annual graduation ceremony June 21 on the football field. Valedictorian Luke Begley and Salutatorian Charles Clark addressed the crowd in attendance and the class of nearly 300.

Stock photo

The next couple of months are packed with celebrations, including high school and college proms and graduations. When planning any outdoor festivities, PSEG Long Island urges customers to think carefully
about how they handle Mylar balloons. Though they can make a party more festive, Mylar balloons can also cause power outages when they get loose and come in contact with electrical equipment.

The distinctive metallic coating on Mylar balloons conducts electricity. Because of this, when a Mylar balloon comes in contact with a power line, it can cause a short circuit. This short circuit can lead to power outages, fires and possible injuries.

To reduce the risk of outages and injuries, residents should keep the following safety tips in mind:

• Mylar balloons and other decorations should be kept away from overhead power lines and all utility equipment.

• Make sure balloons are secured to a weight that is heavy enough to prevent them from floating away. Keep balloons tethered and attached to the weights at all times.

• Always dispose of Mylar balloons by safely puncturing the balloon in several places to release the helium that otherwise could cause the balloon to float away.

• Never touch a power line. Do not attempt to retrieve a balloon, toy or other type of debris that is entangled in an overhead power line. Call PSEG Long Island to report the problem at 800-490-0075 so crews can remove the item safely.

For more kite and balloon safety tips visit PSEG’s website.

According to what I recently read, over half of the high schools in the United States are doing away with recognition of the highest achieving students. They are no longer naming valedictorians and salutatorians at graduation. I find that shocking.

No, I was neither valedictorian nor salutatorian at my high school graduation, so that is not the cause of my
disappointment at this latest piece of participation trophy news. No one is hurt if there is no “best.” Everyone feels good about himself or herself, and there certainly isn’t any unhealthy competition, right? Everyone gets the same diploma. Everyone is equal.

How idiotic! Everyone is not equal just because everyone showed up. Some put more effort into the learning process than others. Perhaps some were not as gifted as others but had a greater drive to learn and to excel. Shouldn’t those top students be rewarded with the recognition they deserve? Shouldn’t they be regarded as role models? They will often go on to be the leaders of our country at the end of the day.

Class ranking is also being abandoned. This is just another example of dumbing down America. In our vast and rich continent, our most valuable resources are the education and knowledge, along with the drive and motivation of our population. When we declare that all men (insert “persons”) are created equal, we mean we have equal rights to excel and should be given every opportunity and encouragement to do so.

I did graduate from a highly competitive high school. I had to pass a test to get in, and I had to pass innumerable tests over the years to stay in. We all moaned about how competitive the school was. Our final grades were posted on the main hallway walls at the end of each semester, along with our rank in our class. “So terrible,” we said, “so unhealthy.” But you know what? I worked harder, studied longer, learned more, because I wanted to see my name higher up on those lists.

Englishman Roger Bannister didn’t break the 4-minute mile alone in 1954 at an Oxford University track. He did it because there were two other runners in the race, Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher, who challenged him for the lead. The competition spurred Bannister to give his best and then some. And when he did break the long-standing barrier, the magic 4-minute figure, he thanked his pacemakers, Chataway and Brasher.

Some disagree that winning a prize or trophy of some sort is what we should be encouraging. They say instead we should inspire an internal desire for learning and self-betterment. But if both work together, an external reward system and an internal drive, we have the best combination for success. Take away the external and the fizz goes out of the drink.

We can teach students how to make competition work for them, rather than tell students that competition is bad.  Competitors make worthy colleagues. Sometimes they make best friends.

Part of what we supposedly teach in schools is preparation for what we call “the real world.” Now everything about our world is competitive: What school we get into, which college we attend, what job we will be able to beat out the competition for, which of us will get promoted, get pay raises, even who we will marry. Heck, will the hometown team win the ballgame tonight?

Now some people refuse to play the competitive game, and that’s all right too. They get jobs that pay them enough to get by, they don’t aspire to the conspicuous consumption of much of our society, and they live solid lives with perhaps relatively less stress. Not everyone wants to be a record-breaking athlete. Just getting by is enough. They have the right to the pursuit of happiness according to their own wishes. But sooner or later they have to compete for something — or someone. It is the way of the world, and it is a skill that can be learned without damaging our students. The consolation to not being the best is that everyone is special in some way, not that everyone is equal because they all showed up.

This is the season for speeches. We’re about to enter the graduation and wedding time of year, when principals, best men, maids of honor and valedictorians stand in front of a group of people and share their thoughts during these momentous occasions.

For those about to grab the microphone, I’d like to offer my top 10 list of things not to do in a speech — in reverse order.

10. Don’t make inside jokes that no one, outside of your best friend and maybe your sibling, understands. Looking at your friend after you’ve made a joke that no one gets and pointing back and forth between this other person and you only endangers that friendship.

9. Don’t make a speech without practicing. Find someone who can be helpful and not someone who thinks you shouldn’t change anything you do, ever. That honest person might prevent you from saying, “The groom is so lucky. He gets to sleep with Karen — I always wanted to sleep with Karen. I can’t wait to hear about it.”

8. Don’t correct yourself on small details, such as, “Remember when we had that school snowball fight in second grade? No, wait it was first grade, right? No, no, it was second grade. I was right the first time.” Most people won’t care about those details. They’d rather you got it wrong than hear you go play a one person game of memory ping-pong.

7. Don’t forget to thank everyone you should thank. You can acknowledge your friends for helping you get through those tough years, the writers of your favorite movies for giving you a chance to laugh, and the woman at the supermarket for encouraging you to submit an application that got you into a summer program. Never forget to thank your parents, any relatives who are in attendance and the teachers who somehow managed to educate you despite your insistence that their subject was irrelevant.

6. Don’t imagine that alcohol makes you a better singer. It doesn’t. Besides, there’s always an enormous collection of cellphones at any wedding. You can’t erase that horrible rendition of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” Ever. Strangers will come up to you and screech at you.

5. Don’t quote someone else extensively. Winston Churchill was a tremendous speechmaker, JFK said some memorable things, too, as did Martin Luther King Jr. Audiences can read and have no desire to hear you butcher an extensive collection of words someone else delivered.

4. Don’t try to sell something. You’re there to support the graduate, the bride and groom and numerous families. This isn’t the time to suggest that people moved by your speech can pick up tissues at your store
because you sell the softest tissues in town.

3. Don’t talk about how difficult it is for you to give a speech. Chances are the audience supports you
anyway, so there is no need to tell them, over and over again. If you aren’t particularly good at public speaking, they’ll notice.

2. Don’t look down at your poorly written notes during the entire speech. If you look up once in a while, you won’t sound like you’re muttering anecdotes and advice in your sleep.

1. Don’t give a long speech. The most important part of any speech is to keep it short. Sure, you might be funny and have some words of wisdom that people will remember. And, yes, you might recall an
anecdote that sheds light on the people in your class. People want to eat dessert, go to a party, or throw their ridiculous square hats with tassels into the air for the annual picture of stupid hats in the air. A good rule of thumb for speeches: When in doubt, leave it out.

Michelle, Cari and Katelyn Gostic are sisters who were each named valedictorian or salutatorian at Shoreham-Wading River High School. Photo from the Gostics

By Kevin Redding

At Shoreham-Wading River High School, siblings share more than genes.

When Advanced Placement student and track star Anthony Peraza graduated at the top of his class, he wasn’t just following in the footsteps of his older brother, Matthew, who was named salutatorian in 2014.

The soon-to-be Cornell University engineering student was also carrying on an ongoing tradition in the district, which, since 2006, has seen a total of five sets of siblings graduate in the top percent of their classes, as valedictorian or salutatorian.

Those on the list, which now includes the Perazas, are William Throwe, named valedictorian in 2006, and his sister, Emily, salutatorian in 2009; Katelyn Gostic, valedictorian of her graduating class in 2009, whose drive to succeed from an early age set the bar for her sisters, Michelle, salutatorian in 2011, and Cari, valedictorian in 2013; Iris Yu, 2010 salutatorian, and her sister, Spring, the 2015 valedictorian; and Maxwell Maritato, who was named valedictorian in 2014, two years before his brother, Nicholas, who gave his salutatorian speech in 2016.

“For any student to become a valedictorian is an amazing achievement, but to have several sets of siblings be at the top of their classes really is a testament to the families,” Shoreham-Wading River High School Principal Dan Holtzman said in an email.

“I think Anthony saw the adulation his brothers received and was like, ‘oh, I’m going to be like that.’”

— Rosemary Peraza

In the Peraza household, education was always priority No. 1.

Raised by two high school chemistry teachers, Anthony and his older brothers — Matthew, 20, entering his senior year at Cornell University this fall, and Michael, 24, a Cornell graduate working for the county as an environmental engineer — were taught the importance of structure and academics from the moment they could breathe, according to their father, Tony, a retired teacher and coach at Longwood Senior High School.

“When Anthony was about four, my wife and I used to run with him while [also] working on vocabulary and times tables,” his father said, laughing that he was the “drill sergeant” parent while his wife was the more affectionate one. “He knew what was expected of him as the youngest.”

Anthony’s mother Rosemary, a teacher at West Babylon High School, said the brothers are close, support one another and each have a strong work ethic.

“I think Anthony saw the adulation his brothers received and was like, ‘oh, I’m going to be like that,’” she said.

But while Matthew and Michael had to be pushed sometimes to get in gear, their father said that was never needed for Anthony.

“He was self-motivated — he would get up on time, would get most of his work done before he got home, [and] always gave us perfect report cards since grammar school, A-plus’s all the way down,” Tony Peraza said. “He just seemed to get it.”

Aside from running cross country and playing alto sax in the jazz band throughout high school, Anthony Peraza  took several AP classes, in physics, chemistry, calculus, music theory, U.S. history, literature and even scored a high grade on an AP biology exam his freshman year even though he did not take the class.

Michael, Anthony and Matthew Peraza have added to a sibling trend of valedictorians and salutatorians at Shoreham-Wading River High School. Photo from the Perazas

“My brother’s grades set pretty high standards, so I felt I needed to do that too, and not let anyone down,” he said. “Early on, it was drilled into my brain ‘do homework first, get it done.’”

On his younger brother’s achievements, Matthew Peraza said, “Anthony really got what he deserved. He’s worked hard and he had it figured out. I’m really proud.”

That same inherent motivation also drove the Gostic sisters in high school, where each of them excelled as three-season athletes, AP students and extracurricular leaders.

But as far as sisterly competition goes, Katelyn Gostic, 26, who was student government president, said there wasn’t much of it.

“We all sort of just followed each other’s examples … all three of us were independently wired to work really hard and take pride in what we did,” said the oldest sister, a Princeton University graduate currently pursuing her doctorate at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We were all so busy.”

Michelle Gostic, 24, currently at the Delft University of Technology Dutch in the Netherlands to get her coastal engineering degree, said having Katelyn as an older sister served as inspiration.

“I always admired her and had it in my head that she was in another league, so I never compared myself to her,” Michelle said with a laugh. “Any motivation we had was definitely from within.”

She said both her parents — Rich Gostic, a science teacher at Hampton Bays High School, and Sherry Gostic, a physical therapy instructor at Stony Brook University — instilled in them an appreciation for learning without putting pressure on them.

“My husband and I are proud parents, but I have to say the girls were very much self-disciplined and driven, and we really did not play a big role in what they have accomplished,” their mother said. “It just turned out the way it did without anybody really trying to accomplish any kind of goal.”

As the youngest, Cari Gostic, 22, said working hard was a habit that I grew up with and modeled.

“I came home and did my work because that’s what Michelle and Katelyn did, and it has worked out really well for me,” said the recent Cornell graduate, who finished a semester early with a degree in atmospheric science.

“We all sort of just followed each other’s examples … all three of us were independently wired to work really hard and take pride in what we did.”

— Katelyn Gostic

When Maxwell Maritato, 20, was in seventh grade, the engineer-in-training at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute recalls coming home and asked his mother Dorothy, “What would you say if I got an 85 on my science test?” to which she responded, “That wouldn’t be too bad.”

But when he told her that was the grade he got on his science test, she said, “Aw come on, you can do better than that.”

“I was like, ‘alright, let me see if I can do better,’ so it started out as wanting to please my parents a bit and it took off from there,” said Maritato, whose father, Peter, is the chair of the engineering department at Suffolk County Community College.

His mother said family always came first but stressed the importance of school.

“We encouraged them to get their work done before they played,” the physical therapy instructor said. “They were both bright from the get-go, and mature for their age. We consider ourselves lucky they were such good kids.”

By high school, Maxwell Maritato was student government president, a member of the National Honors Society, a volleyball and track standout and leagues above his classmates when it came to academics.

But younger brother Nicholas, currently pursuing a biomedical engineering degree at Johns Hopkins University, said he never felt pressured to achieve anything his brother did.

“It was definitely more inspiring to see the work he did pay off the way like it did, and it pushed me to strive to do my best,” he said, adding that any competition between the two was in good fun. “We were really good friends growing up.”

When Nicholas, an AP student, varsity volleyball and track athlete and Eagle Scout, was named salutatorian, his brother Maxwell had just a few words to say: “I saw it coming from miles away.”

Mount Sinai seniors hit the field June 24 to celebrate the end of their high school careers.

Valedictorian Ben May and salutatorian Helene Marinello shared parting words with the Class of 2017, many of whom were donned with decorative caps signifying places gone and what’s to come.

May spoke about the class being the last to have been born in the 20th century, and technically the final group of 90’s kids to graduate.

“We have the best chance of anyone alive today to live in three different centuries. We have more opportunities today to learn, develop and achieve great things than ever have veer been seen in the history of the human race,” he said. “Let’s go out into the world ready not to be the best person in the room, but also ready to strive to become better. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

He finished with a fond memory from freshman year.

“Midway through our class trip to Six Flags, it started raining, and all of the rides began to close and most people sought shelter inside,” May said. “However, we were different. In the middle of the storm, we started dancing and playing. In the future, let’s remember to dance when it’s raining.”

This version was updated to correct the spelling of valedictorian Ben May’s name. 

Shoreham-Wading River’s Class of 2017 seniors celebrated graduation day June 25.

Students lined up across the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field to receive their diplomas and toss their caps in celebration of the completion of high school.

Valedictorian Anthony Peraza and salutatorian Kyle Higgins addressed their peers, and other local officials and board of education members bid farewell. Special speaker Tim Sini, Suffolk County’s police commissioner, also shared some words of wisdom with the parting seniors.