The remarkably multi-talented Class of 2000 marched into the commencement exercises to the bittersweet melody of Pomp and Circumstance on a (could-not-have-been-a-more perfect) late June afternoon. The 275 graduates full of smiles and high spirits delighted all of the family, friends and school district personnel who attended this year's graduation as they marked this milestone in their young lives.
A proud moment...the mortarboard's fly into the air signifying the official end of the graduation ceremony.
The prestigious Bogart Scholarship was awarded to Melissa Brewster. (The Port News will do a profile on her in an upcoming issue.)
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Inserra offered the graduates some good advice. He said, "Hopefully, you will learn that there are no mistakes, only lessons. You might also figure out that you can learn more from failure that you can from success. Michael Jordan once said: I've missed more than 900 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I have been trusted to make the game's winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeeded."
Quoting Helen Keller, Dr. Inserra said, "...the greatest risk in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, has nothing. is nothing and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, and feel, and change, and grow, and live."
Continuing he noted, "This class has risen to the top in so many ways. We are so proud of you and look forward to following your journey to success."
School Board President Dr. Roy Nelson used the metaphor of cleaning out a locker to point up the good and bad high school experiences that helped shape the lives of the graduates...ultimately all for the good of their development.
Assistant Principal and grade administrator for the Class of 2000, Bob Bracken told the Port News that he was "lucky to have such a group of terrific kids." Speaking to the range of all of the multi-faceted students in this special group he ushered through the past four years, he said "I went to almost every game, concert, and exhibit, and enjoyed all of their articles in the Schreiber Times. There wasn't an area these kids weren't involved in, and they have now left a void."
Schreiber Principal Dr. Sid Barish offered his usual heartfelt, amusing and thoughtful advice to the graduates. The complete text of his speech is repeated follows:
Members of the Board of Education, Dr. Inserra, faculty, graduates, their families and friends, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the commencement ceremony for the Class of 2000. While we try to figure out whether this is the next millennium or the turn of the century, one thing is for sure: you are the first Schreiber class to graduate in the year 2000. And first-class is a good description of this group in particular.
This has been a milestone year for many members of your class. Viviana Risca rose to the very top of the Intel competition and garnered the coveted first place place prize of a $100,000 scholarship making her tops in the nation. Speaking of tops, Viviana and Kristin Kovner are in the USA Today First Academic Team (Top 20), and Dan Halperin is in the second team of 20. Then there is Jason Ham, who won the Thorp award as the best high school football player in Nassau County. Nat Francis accomplished a feat of his own upon winning the Gatorade award as the boys soccer player of the year. Erin Cohen was selected to represent Nassau County at the women's Sports Foundation for her accomplishments in athletics, scholarship, leadership and community service.
Others in your class have stood out for notable achievements and contributions: Jacob Graham, Elizabeth Enriquez, Brian Dermody, Nicole Dumpson, Lauren Braun, Katie Lowes, Ariana Tolins, Shirley Cho, Kate Pedatella, Melissa Brewster, Chantelle McCurty, Priscilla Maldonado and Colin Fitzpatrick come to mind. And the list goes on and on, and in many instances includes otherwise quiet and unassuming people. They have different natures, abilities, interests and talents. But they share at least one thing in common: they are all part of the Port Washington experience and represent your collective contributions to our great school. They have discovered their unique talents and worked to develop them. Their accomplishments provide an important lesson about being yourself and finding your way.
I read two interesting pieces recently on this very subject. One was by the journalist and best-selling author Anna Quindlen. The other was a commentary about the "Peanuts" comic strip creator Charles Schulz. Anna Quindelen delivered an address at Villanova University recently and offered some helpful advice to the graduates. She reminded them that while hundreds or even thousands of people out there will eventually be doing some of the same work that you will be doing, you will be the only one with complete custody of your life. She made a simple and simultaneously powerful point.
After Charles Schulz died in February of this year, a close friend of his recalled something he told her. "You control all these characters and the lives they live. You decide when they get up in the morning, when they're going to fight with their friends, when they're going to lose the game. Isn't it amazing how you have no control over your real life?"
What sense can you make of these two seemingly contradictory points? Do we control our lives or is some other force out there determining our fate? You can wait around for destiny to happen, or you can try to influence that destiny by taking hold of your life and recognizing critical moments that call for decisive action.
This dichotomy in philosophies is not new to me. My mother, who by role is a philosopher, often summoned up a Yiddish expression for such dilemmas. She would say that certain things are beshet, or "meant to be." Simple twists of fate were the cause of significant occurrences. We are the product of our parents and much of our makeup is, indeed, predetermined at birth. Yet, as intelligent, observant, living, breathing humans, we can rewrite the script of our genetic beings if we choose to do so. It is very hard work, but it is your life and no one else's.
How do you go about controlling your own destiny? Well, to begin with, you need to acknowledge the defining moments in your life and determine that you are going to take steps to make goods things happen. For you, now, it may be the choice of friends, whether to engage in particular behaviors and which among a host of risks you choose to take. Many of you have already experienced such decisions in choosing a college and were no doubt guided by how that choice would affect your future. Was the decision destiny or free will? No matter what, it is not the final stage, and you will have many more opportunities to change lanes, speed up, slow down, or even park for awhile.
Issues involving destiny or fate are a lot like miracles: you first have to believe in them in order to recognize one when it happens. But it involves more than sitting around waiting for the big event. I truly believe that you can go out there and discover your destiny. And that is where action comes in and taking custody of your life becomes paramount.
Over the course of your lifetime you will face many important decisions. As you approach one or another moment of truth, you will come to a critical junction. Yogi Berra might say to you as he did to a friend once, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." People laughed at that when they heard it. The more I think about it, however, the more I wonder if he wasn't on to something. Sometimes, either road will take you there, especially if the destination is one you can control. Decisions that await you will include career paths, personal relations, marriage and family. Choose wisely, but most important, go out and find your destiny.
"The future ain't what it used to be," said Yogi Berra. Once again, he was on to something that may have eluded all those who laughed at what he said. Unlike the control Charles Schulz exerted over his comic strip characters, you can shape your future and influence results. Love does not have to be unrequited, baseball games need not always be lost, all test scores do not have to be D-minuses, and the football does not always have to be pulled away.
As you move forward on one or another path, do not become paralyzed by indecision. Take a chance, discover, lead an examined life not necessarily a perfect life, and learn from each experience. That is the way to rewrite your script and live life with a sense of fulfillment and jubilation. I wish you well on your journey. Congratulations on this wonderful occasion, and quoting Yogi, "Thank you for making this day necessary."
The honor of composing and delivering the commencement address this year was earned by Sarah Michelle Katz. Her speech is also printed in its entirety:
Good afternoon administrators, board of education, teachers, family and friends. And a most warm welcome to my fellow students on this bittersweet day that we've been anxiously awaiting. As I stand before you, I take into mind a most appropriate piece of advice that was given to me on the morning of my Bat-Mitzvah. My father instructed me to, "take it slow, because before you even realize, it will all be over and done with. So savor each word on your tongue, and enjoy the ride." So here it goes...
Intertwined with our quest for knowledge of all aspects of life, I've seen my peers striving for difference. Maybe it has become a trend of my generation, or a rebellion against traditional monotonous goals, but there is a craving for variety and individuality. Since sixth grade I knew that I wanted to be different from the rest of the human population. I wanted to be a free thinker, a free spirit, and not an easily led gullible fool. I wanted to wear what I wanted, where I wanted, and when I wanted to. I wanted to be different, and that concept was too much for my immature mind to digest.
Because I still wanted to wear baggy jeans like my sixth grade friend. I wanted to wear them with a belt, hanging low on my hips. I wanted to wear them with a tight shirt, leaving my navel exposed, and I wanted gelled bangs like her. So I tried to clone her image. I copied the essentials, and looked absolutely, completely, utterly ridiculous. I was not she, and could not bear her style upon my shoulders.
But I was young and stupid and in love with individuality, so I kept trying. I went off on a "search for myself." That search was a promise that the sleep-away camp advertisement didn't keep, a promise that a summer in Israel almost kept, and a promise that a summer in Vermont practically fulfilled. Through and through I kept searching for a style I felt at home in, and a place to hang up my masks. I haven't found it yet, but I know for sure that I'm closer to it than I was in sixth grade. At least I hope I am.
While straying from the pack, I tried to realize why I was doing it, because I saw that I was not the only one. Everyone wanted to be the trendsetter, true to who they were, and memorable. I think that along that line, in addition to seeking individuality, we are also seeking remembrance. By that I mean that decades from now, we want our graduating class to remember us most fondly. We do not want to be lost in a mush of memories; we want to be remembered. Not in a greedy way, not in a selfish way, but in a natural human way. The slogan embedded in my mind from the annual Holocaust service is "We shall never forget." While we learn from past mistakes we also do not want to be another vague yearbook name. We don't want to be just a face; it is each contribution that makes this class spectacular.
As silly as it is, I still remember cartoon shows from our '80s childhood. The "Care Bears" each had a power, a beaming light of strength. However, in order to defeat the evil nemesis, the "Care Bears" had to join their powers, and together they were untouchable.
Another memory from our youthful television days was a mother giving life lessons to her children on an HBO special. She handed out to each of her numerous children a singular toothpick. She instructed them to break the toothpick, which each child proceeded to do without any difficulty. The mother then collected a handful of toothpicks and demonstrated her inability to break them all. "Alone," she said, "anyone can break you. But when we stick together, we can't be broken."
In all this diversity in our graduating class, it's a wonder that we got along at all. But we did, and very well I might add, in high school standards. It is because in keeping our personal morals and ideals, we also respected those of others. Thus we shall remember each other.
Because all you need is one connection. One connection with a person, in which you express your emotions, feelings, opinions, ideas, philosophies, or life thoughts, and they respect, or comprehend, or just remember that which you say. If for one moment you are the heavenly clouds that house the golden sunlit knowledge; and through you the windfall light beams down in separate rays that each touch a person individually, or the light touches just one person, and dives into them in such a way that leaves a lasting impression, then you are remembered.
I remember such an instance. In ninth grade health class, there was a psychological test that we all took. It discussed visiting a "fantasy place," which was deadly. We had to choose whether we would visit it all the time, sometimes, or never at all. Visiting the fantasy place was a metaphor for partaking in drugs, and practically the entire class said they would visit this place either part of the time or all of the time. Except for this one kid. He raised his hand and stated that he would never visit this deadly place, because he valued his life too much to risk it on some fantasy. It shocked me so much to hear him stand on his own path, and I still think of him as I did in ninth grade, bravely raising his hand proud amid the rest of us.
You have to take such chances in order to be remembered. All those times sitting silent in class with an answer to a problem won't get you very far unless you speak up. Although that is a small chance to take in comparison to others, it's still a chance all the same. I remember a phrase saying, "Take your chances, or someone else will." Before I had my senior privileges, my friends and I stood at the edge of campus, hesitating as a security guard caused our steps to halt. The hesitation killed us. If we had kept strolling, looking like we were supposed to be going off-campus, then we would have gotten down to the deli and back with no problem at all. But we hesitated, leaving the guards to conclude that we were underclassmen. There cannot be any hesitation as we encounter obstacles in our path. And countless, challenging, difficult, steep obstacles there will be in our future. But, if we don't hesitate, if we keep our minds focused, if we concentrate and take leaping chances, then our lives will run more smoothly.
On this glorious day, we find ourselves at the base of an obstacle that hits straight to the heart. For it's painful when we have to leave comforting warmth for a cold, hard, slap in the face of some sort of reality check. However, we've been enduring that since we left our mother's warm, wet, womb for a brightly-lit room and a harsh, cold breath that slapped our system out of curious awe. Still, we as humans, knowing that change is difficult, but healthy, prefer an Eden of endless comfort; that which we lost and forever shall seek. (Some say in vain.) So we change, leaving the known environment for the unknown. Seeking, searching to satisfy our hunger; our quest and questions.
As we embark on each of our separate lifestyles, we are bound to collect an album (or even volume), of anecdotes and life lessons to play or repeat for younger ears. A broken record that although being repetitive, is comforting. Life is experience, and even though this young millennium graduating class has absorbed great quantities of fruitful knowledge, there is only more to grasp at. I've witnessed the eagerness that drives us towards the unknown, I've watched the teachers provoke us to strive towards the horizon.
However, while searching for answers, I've found that you can't always believe everything you are told, or everything that you see on television or everything you read in the newspaper. I've realized that you can't be led easily, you have to have a mind of your own! You have to question the answered questions, and question them further. And as I stop accepting things simply as they are presented, I watch and listen to my peers questioning the facts. I listen to them present their own ideas, and not someone else's. I see each student as unique and unlike any other. And today, I watch us stand together in our differences.
And today, I watch us about to spread out across the country, apart from one another. But that can't stop us, that doesn't matter, because there is a reason that Mr. Bracken is reaching for his box of tissues. Hand a box of tissues to Mr. Bracken in case he has forgotten them. It is because we, the Class of 2000, are spectacular. We have dazzled this school and embedded our footprints upon its memories so profoundly that there is not way that the custodians can remove our mark. We are memorable, and I know for certain, that in each of our future endeavors, we will succeed in finding happiness. I thank you, fellow classmates, for four years that I shall never forget, even if I wanted to.
In parting, I ask from all of you just one small favor. If you could all, just take a minute or so to slow down and open your eyes long enough to remember something, anything at all. If you could jut savor this moment, this day, and everyday for the rest of your glorious lives. I would greatly appreciate that, thank you. So fellow students, I wish you the best of luck; I bid you the dearest farewell, and I hope you all will enjoy the ride.