Written by D.F. Karppi Friday, 01 July 2011 00:00
It was another beautiful sunny day for the graduation of the Class of 2011, making it easy to hold the ceremony on the front terrace and lawn. Some parents went to sit close to the graduates, some clustered on the edges of the rows for a good look as the students marched by wearing their caps and gowns. Many families chose to move chairs under the majestic trees at the bottom of the lawn, to enjoy the shade. Sunday, June 26 was a typical Oyster Bay High School graduation.
Seated in the front on the right, this reporter had the pleasure of seeing the Star Spangled Banner written on the air in American Sign Language and learned that freedom is two “Okay” signs made using both hands opposite each other. The word “flag” is done with the right arm supported by the left, at the elbow, as the wrist turns and the fingers point left and right. The hands of the signer made bombs burst in the air, and stars light up the sky. It was done for a hearing challenged student and was phenomenal to watch.
Wearing his doctoral robes with light blue velvet bands on the sleeves denoting that his degree is in education, Dr. Dennis O’Hara welcomed the Class of 2011. Over the past six years he said he has watched them at concerts on the playing field, at dances, visited some of their homes; and in his home learned that the cross country team can eat a lot of pancakes. He added his bond with the young people saying, “You’ve been there as I struggled and we learned our lessons.”
He said, “You were there when the maitre d’ of the Lawrence Country Club said you were ‘The most polite, respectful and pleasant group we’ve ever had here. They are unbelievable.’”
He said Assistant Principal Frank Imperiale said, “This is the best group I’ve ever had,” and added that coming from him, this means a lot. He asked everyone to wish him Happy Birthday, his 45th.
Dr. O’Hara asked Henrietta Stevie Rae McDonald and Vincent Dobrochasov to stand: they are joining the U.S. Air Force. “All others are continuing their education or learning a field of study,” he said.
He said of the Class of 2011, “Over the last six years, every interaction has been a pleasant one. I admire, respect and love you. You are a principal’s dream.”
He said, “Go with the strong belief that you will be successful – go and give the world your best.”
Salutatorian Joseph Michael Talve Heaney IV said he asked the class to write letters to the teachers who had most influenced them at Roosevelt, Vernon and the high school. The result, he said, “This is the largest faculty attendance in the last few years. Thank you.”
Mr. Heaney spoke of the class and its diversity in everything including abilities, and choices of schools, and careers. He said, “No one is single-focused, each can focus on more than one interest,” which he credited to the OBHS faculty encouraging them to discover their true passions. “It’s a small school that allows for success – for these unique, talented driven students.” On a personal note he said, “Mom, it took a village to raise my sister and I.”
Mr. Heaney thanked everyone from parents and teachers down to their babysitters who had helped them develop; he reminded the class of a quote by Alexander Graham Bell, “When one door closes, another one opens,” and offered “Congratulations to the Class of 2011.”
The Superintendent’s address was to come next but Dr. O’Hara explained that Dr. Phyllis Harrington had a medical procedure and he spoke for her instead. He said her best advice was, “A good attitude is the most important thing,” and to that she added that “Life is 10 percent of what happens and 90 percent of how you react to it.
”Just continue to make us proud of you,” he ended for her.
Valedictorian Madelaine Zaleski looked out at the wider infinite world as she spoke, the opposite of Mr. Heaney’s view of the finite world of the Class of 2011. She thanked all the teachers and staff and especially Dr. Harrington for creating a school of excellence under her guidance. She offered gratitude to guidance for heading them on to their colleges, and to the families too.
Ms. Zaleski told the class to remember the importance of their voice for the country and the world. She said while petty differences can divide us – we are all just “Other people.” She said, “You have the power to change things.”
“Forget the hate of past generations through education which brings understanding.” She said fight ignorance with education; peace can be a reality; it is all right that we call God by a different name; the differences make us human. She quoted Voltaire who said, “I do not agree with what you say but I defend your right to say it.” Ms. Zaleski added, “the evil of ignorance is only paralleled with the evil of apathy”.
The entire senior ensemble sang Breakaway with solos by Elizabeth Quaid and Marina Anne Heaney, under the direction of Linda R. Gissinger, conductor.
OBEN Board of Education President James Robinson greeted guests saying, “This certainly has been an interesting year.” He said the members of the Class of 2011 had earned an overwhelming number of accolades.
Mr. Robinson said a school district is the most important organization in the community. It gives young people a chance to explore their passions; to follow their interests; learn lifelong skills; be in a safe environment; and able to make good safe choices.
To the Class of 2011 he advised them to look at the bigger picture about what life is really about. “Keep the entire photo album in mind.” In life we should become our own teachers; get the most information; and read the entire book to make good decisions,” said Mr. Robinson.
He said he takes his responsibility on the board very seriously and it has taught him more about education and about people. He reminded listeners that he too graduated from OBHS and said, “180 of my classmates will attend the 30th reunion next weekend.” He hoped the Class of 2011 will return for their 30th reunion and for the next 30 years will say they are proud of being an OBHS graduate. “I do,” he said.
Diane Vlavianos, president of the National Honor Society introduced the faculty member whom the students elected for honorary membership in their group. A difficult decision, but it was finally made unanimously, she said. Ms. Vlavianos described the person, as one “really special to me.” She gave some clues as to the identity. She is a teacher who loves Dickens, Hemingway and Shakespeare; she knows that “Hurricanes never happen in Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire.” She taught the students that speeches from Romeo and Juliet can be memorized; and that grammar makes the world go round. “People can be ‘saucy’,” and English can be incorporated into daily life. The teacher is Marjorie Vigliotti.
After cheers and applause, Ms. Vigliotti said “I just feel a connection with each and every student. Each is a gem, each is a winner, each is a lifetime learner, a student grasping each piece of knowledge. I love and adore them,” she said.
Next, Dr. O’Hara called up six people who were receiving both their diploma and the new 21st Century Diploma which prepares students with workforce skills. The students are: Melissa D’Anna, Ashley Kelly Laderer, Hyungseok Lee, Sarah Elizabeth Moxley, Olivia Marie Poglianich, and Evelyn Jasmine Velasquez.
With that, the presentation of diplomas began, and now every student had their moment in the spotlight for friends and family to hoot, cheer and applaud. A few special people got recognition from the two local fire companies: the Oyster Bay Fire Department No. 1 and the Atlantic Steamer Fire Department. Sirens sounded for Olivia Marie Poglianich, Robert J. Crawford III, Ryan Cronin, Edward James Hauser, Danielle Nicole Aurons, Henrietta Stevie Rae McDonald, Gerard Joseph Presta, Sarah Margaret Shoemaker, Eliza Lockton Tappan, Michelle Ann Zangari.
With all the diplomas handed out, Olivia Poglianich, Class of 2011 president; and James Jahrsdeorfer, vice president were called on to face the class and demonstrate moving the tassels from the right to the left.
The only thing that remained was for the students to toss their hats in the air, celebrating their graduation. The Oyster Bay High School Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble under the direction of Matthew Sisia, conductor played Pomp and Circumstance, that was both the processional and recessional music. Parents and friends waited outside for the students to come out, to present their graduates with hugs and bouquets of flowers – and go off to family celebrations.
The Class of 2011 officially left the stage. (Photos next week.)