By Aline Reynolds — East Hampton Press, June 30, 2008
BY ALINE REYNOLDS | The Richard J. Cooney Athletic Complex at East Hampton High School was brimming with smiles, cheer, and applause on Saturday, June 28, as friends and family cheered the Class of 2008 and its 222 graduates.
Memorable speeches were given by senior class president Hanna Riege, high school Principal Dr. Cheryl Edholm, class salutatorian Gwendolen Akard, valedictorian Asalia Goldberg, and School Superintendent Dr. Raymond Gualtieri.
Ms. Riege framed the 2008 graduates’ high school career in historical context, reminding them that Ronald Reagan was the nation’s president when they were born and noting the current controversy over the Iraq War. The class president inspired her fellow graduates and the audience when she energetically announced, “We are prepared to meet the future head-on.”
Recounting her experience of mustering the courage to run for president of her class, she discussed the emotional obstacles that high school students face, such as shyness, fear, and “leaving our comfort zones” as she and her peers pursue their post-high school endeavors.
Dr. Edholm, former director of counseling and assessment for the East Hampton School District and principal of East Hampton High School since spring 2007, announced that she felt like a proud mother with high aspirations for her graduating children. “I am thrilled for them,” she said. “This is a dedicated group who are going to lead the nation one day, I have no doubt.”
In her ceremonial address to the crowd and the 2008 graduates, Dr. Edholm underscored the notion of change. “This class learned well how to manage change,” a task, she explained, that requires five distinct qualities: vision, skill, inventiveness, resourcefulness, and a plan of action. “The transition is smooth with all five factors involved,” she said; without them, one is stuck on a treadmill—working hard, going nowhere, and experiencing frustration, anxiety, and confusion.
“You are the future, you are the change,” she told the graduating class, which was seated behind the platform where she stood. “Share your vision with others, challenge yourselves to excel and dream big,” she urged.
Next came the senior chorus, with a strong performance of Z. Randall Stroope’s “Omnia Sol,” directed by David Douglas and accompanied by pianist and music teacher Jonathan Howe. The group sang with a lyricism, passion, and vocal dexterity that impressed the enthusiastic crowd. The chorus members seemed to sing the recurring words, “When we part …” with heartfelt, bittersweet nostalgia.
In her talk, class valedictorian Asalia Goldberg discussed the significance of living virtuously and optimistically and of constantly reaching out to others. After quoting Albert Einstein on appreciating life as a miracle, and thanking her parents for instilling in her a love of learning, Ms. Goldberg declared, “Let us never forget that our awards, our honors … are all part of our lives, but they do not define our lives. A plaque we see today will be brought out years later from a musty cardboard box, its life having been spent in the corners of an attic … but a moment of helping someone, of being there for another person, is a miracle that will never be forgotten. For it will be lived by that person every day.”
Salutatorian Gwendolen Akard emphasized acceptance of others in her brief address. “In the long run, each of us will be happier if we can accept the faults and differences of others, and of ourselves, as simply part of life,” she said. Ms. Akard alluded to the East Hampton community as a microcosm of the real world. “After all,” she pointed out, “high school and East Hampton are not as sheltered as everyone claims. Haven’t we experienced pure hatred, friendships made and ended? Love gained and love lost, the agony of homework, standardized tests, and getting up far too early? When you think about it that way, high school sounds much harder than the real world.”
Finally, Superintendent Gualtieri imparted words of wisdom to the 2008 graduates. After instructing the students to “learn from other people’s mistakes” since “you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself,” Dr. Gualtieri read an excerpt from the book, “Things That I’ve Learned in my Life So Far,” by Stefan Sagmeister and others: “I’ve learned that credentials on the wall do not make you a decent human being … I’ve learned that two people can look at the exact same thing and see it totally differently. I’ve learned that our background and our circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become. I’ve learned that the people who you expect to kick you when you are down are the people who help you get up. I’ve learned that heroes are people who do what has to be done, regardless of the consequences … I’ve learned that money is a lousy way of keeping score.”
Dr. Gualtieri provided comic relief with parting words of advice: “And, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve learned that you can get by with charm for about 15 minutes, and then after that you have to know something.”
Connie Hernandez and other members of the Hernandez family were among the enthusiastic onlookers of the ceremony, perched in the front row of the crowd to cheer Miguel Hernandez, as he strode to the podium to pick up his diploma.
“Miguel is one of the fifth generation of East Hampton Bonackers to graduate in our family, so we’re very proud of him today,” Mrs. Hernandez proudly stated, adding that the entire family values the high-quality education offered by East Hampton High School. “All the teachers were really close-knit” with the students “and they would all help.” Miguel will be attending the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the fall.
Susan Stadler, an 11th-grade resource room teacher who has been responsible for training students with learning disabilities for 10 years at the high school, mentioned one of the unique attributes of the graduating class of 2008. “This class has a lot of quiet talent,” she said. “There are a lot of special kids who have good people qualities that maybe aren’t up on the stage all the time.”
Similarly, Timothy Rude, an advanced placement American history and economics teacher for 18 years at East Hampton High and a devoted attendee of the school’s graduation ceremonies, was laudatory in speaking of the graduating class, which, he said, “came together very well under adversity; [the students] stuck together as a group, worked very hard, and have a lot of admirable qualities.”
Priscilla Campbell, who has taught history and geography for 17 years at the school, noted the strong solidarity of the 2008 class. “The school has done a wonderful job of pulling the kids together so that they have become a cohesive group and so that, by the time they leave here, they really are one group of students,” she said. “They’re independent thinkers … but aren’t divided by which school district they came from as eighth-graders.” Campbell also referred to “the Bonac spirit that all of them possess by the time they leave here.”
Rude alluded to Saturday’s graduation ceremony as a bittersweet experience. “It’s nice to see the kids go off and become accomplished, but its sad to see the kids that you’ve worked together for two years leave your life. They become part of your life.”
The students were equally emotional about graduating and about moving forward into a new phase of life.
Maral O’Brien, a 2008 graduate who tearfully walked away from the podium with her diploma, said, “It was a really emotional time. I’m really going to miss the school,” especially “the wonderful teachers I had. It was really great to see them at the end” of the ceremony, she said. Ms. O’Brien is looking forward to attending the State University of New York at New Paltz in the fall.
The culminating moment for the graduates came when they proceeded in file, receiving their diplomas and shaking the hands of the teachers, advisors and the principal. Next, the graduates turned their tassels, passionately tossed their caps into the air, and joyfully embraced their family members and friends.