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A Spectacular Graduation Day In Oyster Bay

OBHS Principal Dr. Dennis O’Hara called the Class of 2012 ‘a principal’s dream.’

Sunday, June 24, 2012 was a perfect day in Oyster Bay.  It was 80 degrees under bright blue skies.  You couldn’t have asked for better conditions to celebrate the commencement of the Class of 2012.  At the stroke of noon, Mr. Matthew Sisia raised his baton and the Oyster Bay High School combined Symphonic Band and Wind Ensemble struck the familiar chords of Edward Elgar’s venerable classic, “Pomp and Circumstance.”

The crowd was soon surrounded by a sea of purple and white robes as the graduates marched out the doors of the high school led by the Class of 2012 Honorary Marshals: Elizabeth Gurdus, Kristen Poppe, Alessandra Puccio and Dean Smiros.

Oyster Bay High School Senior Class President Boyd Warwick-Clark led the hundreds of family, friends, and onlookers assembled on the front lawn of the high school in the Pledge of Allegiance.  The OBHS Chamber Singers sang a beautiful version of the “The Star Spangled Banner” under the direction of Ms. Linda Gissinger.

Oyster Bay High School Principal Dr. Dennis O’Hara, in his opening remarks, said, “Academically, the Class of 2012 has consistently exceeded Long Island, New York State and National averages on state assessments, Regents exams, ACTs and SATs.  In fact, almost 95 percent of today’s graduates have earned a Regents Diploma and just over 96 percent of them are going to college with the rest already focused on a job, vocational training or the military.  This year, Oyster Bay High School was nationally ranked by three independent sources, US News and World Report, The Washington Post, and Newsweek.  Those around the nation know that in this little school, on this little main street, these students perform in the top 1.3 – 2 percent of all the high schools throughout the entire country.  That is better than 98 percent of all high schools in the United States.  The Class of 2012:  I have come to admire you, respect you and most importantly, love you.  You are a principal’s dream.”

Dr. O’Hara turned the podium over to the Salutatorian, Jamie Zabinsky for an address of welcome.

Jamie Zabinsky plans on attending Cornell University in Ithaca, New York this fall where she will study industrial and labor relations.  While at OBHS, Jamie excelled as a member of the Mock Trail Team and the OBHS chapter of the National Honor Society.  Jamie served as treasurer of the OBHS Student Council.

In her address, Jamie said, “As the rest of our lives begin, think about the people we are right now; let us learn today not from our teachers and textbooks, as we have proven ourselves capable of doing, but rather from ourselves, and with our unique discoveries, we will eventually realize the people we want to be.”

The Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Phyllis Harrington offered advice to the Class of 2012.  “There is no doubt that you are entering a world filled with uncertainty and monumental challenges.  As Robert Louis Stevenson said, ‘Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.’  The ability to rise above those challenges, to deal with whatever obstacles are placed in your way, and ‘play a poor hand well’ will define your resiliency.  It will make you the person you are to become.”

Dr. O’Hara welcomed the valedictorian, Ashley George, to the podium to deliver the farewell speech.  Ashley George finished first in her class to become the valedictorian for the Oyster Bay High School graduating class of 2012.  Ashley also plans on attending Cornell University in September.  Ashley will study human development and neurosciences. 

While at Oyster Bay High School, Ashley was a member of the champion varsity badminton team, stage crew, the OBHS chapter of the National Honor Society, performed in plays and was a regular in the student / staff talent shows.

Ashley was the President of the OBHS Science Honor Society and a member of the OBHS Foreign Language Honor Society.

Ashley said, “Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, ‘the glory of friendship is not in the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is in the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him.’  This is exactly the type of friendship that is exhibited in our high school.  It is only at this school where the community rejoices with every college acceptance.  And I am almost positive we are the only school with a principal who has enough faith in his students that he is willing to be taped to a cafeteria wall in support of an eighth-grade college trip.  We support each other; when one of us is hit with a tragedy, the rest of us feel the pain and come together to heal the wound.

“The friendship and support we have had here must be what we carry with us as our paths separate.  We share the world with an eclectic group: people with different skin tones, different religious beliefs, different opinions and from different classes of society.  In another time, these differences were the reasons neighbors turned against each other. Today, though, mankind is gradually accepting this diversity.  My hope is this: that we, as graduates of OBHS, will emulate the community we have grown to cherish at this school.  I pray that the friendship that Mr. Emerson was speaking of, the friendship we found in each other here lives on, not just in this school, but in our legacy.  When people look at us, I want them to see acceptance, camaraderie, individualism, where new faces are welcomed with smiles and where support can be found.

“I know my message may not be as profound as the typical graduation speech.  I did not talk about how we are going to change the world or use a fancy extended metaphor to express a larger mind-boggling idea.  But, to be totally honest, I do not think those things matter as much.  And like I said, I do not know what the future holds.  All I do know is that we can and will carry the ideals we learned from the people we interacted with during our years here.  I conclude with another quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children... to leave the world a better place... to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.  This is to have succeeded.’ Congratulations to the class of 2012.  We have indeed succeeded.”

The Oyster Bay Senior Ensemble provided a musical interlude singing a song from the Broadway musical Hairspray called “Come So Far (Got So Far To Go)” featuring solos by Brian Thompson, Lauren Burke, Boyd Warwick-Clark, Christine Drexler, Jonathan Ramirez, Alexa Ritacco, Nicholas Palczewski, and Julie Bouchard.  The song ended with a tearful farewell from Ms. Gissinger to her young singers as she heads off into retirement.

Board of Education President Ann Marie Longo took to the podium to offer her remarks, in which she said, “Remember as all of you move on to the next chapters in your book of life, whether it is moving out of your homes to go to a university, staying home to attend a local college, moving on to start a career or even entering the armed forces, your families are also going through changes.  Remember to stay in touch.  Remember that although you are growing up and maturing into wonderful adults you will always be the young child whose first words are in the memory of every parent and grandparent.

“Please, embrace life’s challenges, grow with every new experience, live, learn, laugh, love and most of all, enjoy.

“To quote Mark Twain: ‘Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.’”

Val Sakellaridis, president of the OBHS Chapter of the National Honor Society, introduced this year’s choice for the National Honor Society Honorary inductee, retiring OBHS science teacher, Robert Bennett.

Diplomas were handed out, caps were thrown in the air and by half past one, it was off to parties and the rest of their lives as Oyster Bay High School Alumni.