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Graduations

Comsewogue Assistant Superintendent Joseph Coniglione and Superintendent Jessica Quinn delivered cap and gowns to high school seniors June 8. Photo from Quinn’s Facebook

With graduation plans interrupted due to the pandemic, local school districts are trying to find unique options to give seniors their send-off.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed an executive order June 7 that allowed districts to have in-person socially distanced graduations for up to 150 people after June 26. Comsewogue High School, with around 320 students graduating this year, has opted instead to hold several ceremonies online in the latter half of June. 

“Our plan is socially distant and safe,” said Superintendent Jennifer Quinn.

While graduation is still scheduled for July 23, the district is planning a car parade send-off. Seniors will be asked to drive through the front bus loop at the high school on Thursday, June 25, between 12 and 1 p.m. The district expects to play music and have lawn signs with the name and picture for each graduate. Staff is expected to come to the building and cheer passing seniors.

The district is also planning several virtual and distanced events after classes officially end June 16. The district will host a Varsity Awards Night Friday, June 19, at 6 p.m., a Senior Scholarship Night, June 22 at 6:30 p.m. and a Virtual Senior Prom June 23 at 8 p.m., all via Zoom. The district will then host a senior slideshow drive-in movie June 24 at 7:30 and 9 p.m. at the high school south parking lot.

Port Jefferson School District, with a graduating class of just 85, is instead pushing its graduation tentatively to Aug 1 (rain date Aug.2), hopeful that New York continues its trend of declining infections and deaths. 

Port Jeff Superintendent Jessica Schmettan said that date was decided before the June 7 executive order, but in a poll senior students overwhelmingly asked for a later event that can be held in person. Village of Port Jefferson officials have notified the district theywill allow the district to use the Village Center for both this activity and its senior prom, which is also tentatively scheduled for a day or two after graduation.

“We’re waiting to see if gathering limits are lifted a little bit more and have more guests and families there like we usually have,” Schmettan said.

The village is also giving a unique opportunity for seniors, using its drive-in movies and showing the John Hughes classic “The Breakfast Club” June 20 exclusively for graduating seniors at its location uptown in the parking lot north of the train station. The village is paying for the drive-in expenses.

Soon-to-be graduate proudly displays high school diploma at Ward Melville High School’s commencement on June 26, 2016. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

They came with cameras, air horns and even a graduate’s photo held high on sticks. These were the proud families and friends who came to celebrate the 618 students who graduated from Ward Melville High School on Sunday.

Before receiving their diplomas, graduating seniors listened to final pieces of advice from their peers, their principal Dr. Alan Baum and school board president William Connors.

Class salutatorian Ariel Long urged her classmates to take their experiences at Ward Melville and “look on new beginnings with excitement and not fear.” Jeffrey Michel, the class valedictorian, reminded them to not limit themselves to one talent or interest.

“Change starts with you,” said Dr. Baum, who quoted a number of artists, including Shakira, to remind students that failure is a part of life and a way to learn. He told the graduates to “challenge obstacles,” try again and move forward.

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Pondering the circle of life and all that

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor receives honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, at the Icahn School of Medicine commencement, held at Avery Fisher Hall in May. Photo by Andrea Moore Paldy

I went to my first graduation at two. My father was receiving his Master’s in Public Administration and, according to my mother, I spent the duration of the ceremony on her lap, kicking her with my white patent leather shoes.

Since then, there have been more graduations than I can properly recall — including my own — and along with an upgrade in footwear, my attention span has also much improved.

To be fair, most of the graduations I attend these days are for work, which means that I should be paying attention if I’m to properly report what occurred.

But this year, in addition to the ones I covered, I had my daughter’s moving-up ceremony from kindergarten, which marked the end of her time — and our family’s time — at the school she and my son attended for preschool and kindergarten. (Yes, there are a lot of emotions there, but I am not going to cry. Sniff!)

And, I attended my cousin Crystal’s graduation from Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, where she received her Master’s of Public Health degree. (This is my “baby” cousin, whose kindergarten “graduation” I’d attended back in the ‘90s). And though this graduation was almost three (!!) hours,  it left me inspired, hopeful and with a sense of how interconnected we all are.

One of the speakers, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, an oncologist, vice provost at University of Pennsylvania and leading bioethicist and health care policy reformer, practically scandalized the audience when he said something to the effect that no one remembers the speeches given at graduation. After a brief moment of indignation, I thought back to my graduations and realized that he was absolutely right. Yet, I remembered the gist of his words without the luxury of jotting them down. What made his words — and those of the medical school dean, Dr. Dennis Charney — memorable was that though they were talking about medicine and health care, they were also addressing universal truths.

Dr. Charney moved the audience by telling of the heartbreaking loss of an infant with an incurable disease. His expression of powerlessness despite the resources and knowledge at his disposal was made all the more painful when he revealed that the child had been his granddaughter. But what he wanted graduates to take away from his personal pain was the idea that they could build on the knowledge of others. He told graduates to stand on the shoulders of those who had come before them to find cures.

These are words that can resonate with us all as we strive to add to — or improve on — what pioneers in our own areas of expertise have discovered, invented or created. We also do this when we stand on the shoulders of  family members who sacrificed so that our dreams could be bigger.

As for Dr. Emanuel — did I mention that he’s Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s big brother? — his words were just as wise. He said even if you are a great doctor, if the system is broken, your patient can still be harmed. Again, this is not a sentiment unique to medicine. This holds true in government, education, the judicial system and even the media. But this holds even more sway coming from a man who has worked within the system and has dedicated much of his career to fixing it. When we call on doctors and policy makers or other members of society to see beyond themselves and to work to fix what’s broken around them, we are reminded that we are a part of a larger network.

This idea of how knowledge is passed on and then used to sometimes inch, or even propel, ourselves forward came full circle at last Sunday’s Ward Melville High School graduation. The valedictorian — who will be attending my alma mater — gave a moving speech highlighting the talents of his classmates. He mentioned several of them by name before moving on to acknowledge the guidance of his junior high and high school teachers and, of course, all of the parents.  He closed by urging his classmates to pay it forward. Though he didn’t say it in the way Charney did, he was telling the class of 2015 to allow others to stand on their shoulders.

Though most people don’t really enjoy all the sitting and listening and waiting, graduations are momentous occasions because they are a chance to look back before moving forward. They reinforce the bonds we have with those who have helped us, and they inspire us to be the boost that guides others to success.

This philosophy couldn’t have been more apparent as all doctors were asked to stand and recite the Oath of Maimonides with the new Icahn graduates. My Uncle Donald began his medical career as a resident at Mount Sinai and now, at his daughter’s graduation, he represented knowledge and experience.

The moment was sentimental and it was also a proclamation. It showed that we achieve with the help of others, and we achieve by helping others.

 

 

 

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Umbrellas, usually necessary to ward off blazing sun, protected spectators from light drizzle as Ward Melville High School honored around 600 graduates Sunday.

Graduating seniors took their places in bleachers set up alongside the high school’s entrance, which still featured the “Journey to Neverland” backdrop from Thursday night’s prom.

Salutatorian Jayne Green told the women in the audience to remember they were not alone and that as half of the population, women should unite and work together. If they did, she said, “Nothing can stop us.”

Valedictorian Eric Wang shared his moment at the podium with his classmates by mentioning many of them and their contributions by name.

From state athletic champions to talented performers, innovators, “extraordinary leaders,” “patriots serving the country” and those always ready to offer a lending hand, “Each and every one of us is exceptional,” Wang said.

He then urged his classmates to “pay it forward” and channel their energies into their future endeavors.

Following student government president George Zenzerovich’s presentation of the class gift were words from Principal Alan Baum and school board president William Connors. The rain subsided in time for Baum and assistant principal Rosanne DiBella to hand diplomas to the members of the Class of 2015.