Huntington High School’s Class of 2019 received the accolades and sendoff that it so richly deserved as a standing room only crowd of about 2,500 turned out at Blue Devil Stadium for the high school’s 158th commencement exercises last Friday night.
The seniors marched into Blue Devil Stadium in parallel lines wearing blue and white caps and gowns. As the procession circled the track to cheers and made its way to the center of the field where a stage had been erected and chairs arranged in neat rows had been put in place there weren’t many dry eyes in the crowd.
Huntington Class of 2019 valedictorian Hadley Clayton addressed the huge commencement crowd. (Darin Reed photo.)
The early evening ceremony saw 349 seniors awarded diplomas. The commencement featured a series of heartfelt addresses by class members and school and district officials. The Class of 2019 claimed millions of dollars in awards and scholarships.
As the ceremony got underway, senior members of the high school’s chamber choir performed a beautiful rendition of Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner” under the direction of chorus teacher Victoria Garbarino. Seniors Dominick Stanley and Ashlyn Case transferred the colors to juniors Dainela Ramos and Julien Rentsch.
The huge crowd completely filled every square inch of the massive grandstand and spilled out along the north and south sides of the structure, stretching around the fencing, with people sometimes standing three or four deep. The visiting side bleachers were also occupied. It was the largest crowd in at least several decades.
“Who are you?”
An orchestra featuring talented underclassmen under the direction of Nicole Castaldo played Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance No. 1” as the Class of 2019 paraded into the stadium. A chamber choir quartet sang the Huntington Alma Mater arranged by Bill Baker.
“While the actions you’ve taken in the past indeed help to shape your future, it is also important to remember that the past is the past,” Huntington Principal Brenden Cusack told the seniors. “Who you are and who you choose to be will always be one step beyond where you are at this moment. You have the ability to move forward one step at a time to continuously shape who you are, in your words and in your deeds. It is always within your power to decide what you are all about, and to answer the ultimate question, ‘Who are you?’”
It was a day for every Huntington graduate to feel the pride that comes with being an alum of what is believed to be the oldest free public high school in the state.
“Life is too short to hold grudges”
Superintendent James W. Polansky gave the seniors valuable advice that they can reflect upon and hold tight to as they move forward. “Use your time wisely,” he implored. “Time is a gift. Don’t waste it on anger or frustration; life is too short to hold grudges. Take the time to work and play hard. Use time to make a difference in your life and the lives of others. Keep Learning. I’ve always believed the end goal of education is to prepare us to analyze a situation and make an informed decision. Please don’t perpetuate a dichotomous approach to life. I implore all of you to keep reading, evaluating and thinking. Over time, you will learn that once you remove the emotion and drama, little of what you see and read on social media is actually true. Work hard. The world owes you nothing. Very little is accomplished without shedding blood, sweat and tears. Build and maintain positive relationships. Be cautious of the company you keep; choose your friends wisely.”
Mr. Polansky has been a constant presence in the school life of each of the seniors, attending every conceivable event and visiting the building and classrooms on a daily basis.
“Success and perseverance go hand in hand,” Huntington School Board President Jennifer Hebert said. “Show me a person who has reached great heights in their field, who has achieved something remarkable or made notable contributions and I would bet money that their story involves failures, missteps and a lot of picking themselves up, dusting themselves off and trying again. It is the single most important behavior you can learn, as you set out to make your way in life. And the one quality that all successful people share. Learn to persevere.”
The new graduates are destined for dozens of Ivy League and top-tier colleges and universities. They have excelled in every academic discipline as well as the fine and performing arts, mock trial, Virtual Enterprise business and robotics competitions and athletics, winning a variety of awards and honors.
“Don’t let opportunities pass you by”
“Don’t let opportunities pass you by,” valedictorian Hadley Clayton told her classmates. “As my dad would always say: ‘When preparation meets opportunity that is the definition of good luck.’ However, opportunity won’t wait for us. Seize the chances when you get them, as you may regret it later if you don’t. You never know how much one internship or travel venture can change your life. Don’t settle. If you are good you can be great; if you are great you can be exceptional. Celebrate successes, you deserve each and every one, but a goal is not an end point, it’s a launch point. Big or small, the most significant personal growth comes from pushing beyond prescribed limitations. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, not even yourself. Excuses may make us feel better in the short run, but in the long run they are one of the greatest hindrances of progress.”
The dais was filled with Messrs. Cusack and Polansky, Assistant Principals Gamal Smith and Lisette Lors and Assistant Superintendents Kathleen Acker and Beth McCoy along with all seven members of the Huntington School Board and the Class of 2019’s leading members.
“Tonight of all nights is the night that we realize that we are one class rather than many individuals; that we are all equal to each other and the differences we have among us are nonsense in the long run,” said salutatorian Ryan Hoffmann in his address. “Race, religion, heritage, financial status and anything in between; none of that can separate us in anyone’s eyes here in Blue Devil Stadium. We have all vanquished the beast known as high school together, and today we claim our treasure; our diplomas.”
“I ask you to think about that big question”
“Over your time here at Huntington High School, you have had a lot of people working to teach you all the things we think you need to know before you leave,” Mr. Cusack said. “Many of us at school and your parents, guardians, family members and friends have tried to shape you over these years. Now that you are about to leave, I ask you to think about that big question, and to decide for yourself who you really are. Because despite the fact that you will still have people in your life who will help to guide you, ultimately, you must decide on your own who you are and who you will choose to be.”
The orchestra performed “New York, New York” as the new alums marched into history and out of Blue Devil Stadium at the ceremony’s conclusion.
The graduates and their families celebrated on the grass athletic field and posed for an endless array of photos. Huntington’s newest alums didn’t seem to want to leave, realizing it was the last time the Class of 2019 will ever be together in one place.