As they sat in their caps and gowns at their commencements last week, surrounded by their peers, family, friends, teachers and school administrators, class of 2019 graduates in Lynbrook and East Rockaway reflected on their pasts and looked ahead to their futures after graduation.
More than 230 Lynbrook High School seniors walked across the Marion Street Elementary School field on June 27 to shake Board of Education members’ hands and receive the diplomas they had worked so hard for over the past four years.
The graduates were accepted by more than 210 colleges and universities, and were offered over $15 million in scholarships, according to Principal Joseph Rainis, who spoke about the students’ academic, athletic and artistic accomplishments. He called them “a great group of people” and said they were “purpose-driven.”
But now they face uncertainty, Rainis and Valedictorian Kaylie Hausknecht said. In her speech, Hausknecht recalled how she felt on her first day as a freshman, when she planned her route to each class, only to throw her cue cards out later. “Inevitably, one day, you too will be unsure of what the future holds,” she told her fellow graduates, “and remember that in that crushing uncertainty lays the opportunity to grow.”
Hausknecht has earned many awards during her high school career. As a junior, she was one of five finalists from across the country in the Genes in Space science contest. As a senior, she was recognized as a National Advanced Placement scholar, a Regeneron Science Talent Search semifinalist and a finalist in the prestigious National Merit Scholarship competition. She was also a science research student and served as president of the National Honor Society, the National Science Honor Society and the Science Olympiad team.
In his speech, Salutatorian Sam Cohen compared high school to a fishing trip and a roller coaster.
“It’s hard to notice at first, but the hook begins to sink and the line slowly unwinds, and soon it accelerates and accelerates until the spool is flying open and unwinding so fast before your eyes, you get paralyzed and you’re too afraid to grab it and stop it, “ Cohen said. “And then you’re here, on your graduation day . . . pretending you made the most of every second, but secretly wishing you could go back through the loop-the-loop one more time.”
Cohen was the Horizon school newspaper’s editor in chief. Like Hausknecht, he was a finalist in the National Merit Scholarship competition, and he served as president of the Tri-M Music Honor Society and the Student Government Association. He was treasurer of the National Honor Society, a Marine Club board member and performed in the jazz band, as a pianist, and in the school’s orchestra, as a violinist.
He concluded his speech by saying that “closure was invented by Hallmark cards” and the real value of high school is “the people we’ve become.”
Valedictorian Laura Millar told her fellow graduates that it was “scary and uncomfortable” to face the next chapter, but said the class of 2019 had overcome adversity.
She reminded her classmates of the deflating nature of their three straight last-place finishes in Rock Rivalry in their freshman, sophomore and junior years, and the joy they felt to hoist the coveted Silver Cup as seniors. She spoke of how Kanye West once worked at the Gap, and how Rod Stewart started out as a gravedigger. She urged her fellow graduates to learn from that.
“So the next time you think that your past outweighs your future and that life won’t go on, it will,” Millar said. “No matter how tragic the event . . . life will carry on. Don’t let it go on while you’re moping around. Make the best of bad news, complain less and be happy.”
Millar reached the top of her class by compiling a 104.9 grade point average. She will attend the University of Michigan in the fall, where she will study English and journalism.
She was president of the Student Council, the National Honor Society and the NHS Quiz Bowl. She was also vice president of the National Junior Honor Society, and contributed to the student newspaper The Gull. In addition, she played clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, performing in the jazz band, marching band and the Nassau Suffolk Honor Band. And she was a New York State School Music Association All-State finalist.
As well, Millar earned many athletic accolades, named All-Conference in badminton and All-Conference and All-Scholastic in soccer. She was a member of the CYO swimming and volleyball teams and the Lynbrook/East Rockaway travel soccer team. She stayed involved all while volunteering for the Lupus Walk Fundraiser, the Island Harvest food bank and the American Cancer Society walk.
In his speech, Salutatorian Scott Buzzolani compared life to a science experiment, noting that there are many variables that can often lead to unexpected results. He challenged his classmates to step out of their comfort zones and try new things as they move ahead.
“You’ll never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll enjoy, and it’ll ultimately change you,” Buzzolani said. “. . . Remember to be responsible, mature and humble, because if you’re not, you won’t use your full potential and won’t take advantage of every opportunity, and in short, you’ll regret it.”
Buzzolani plans to study chemistry at Adelphi University in the fall. He leaves high school after being very involved in the music department. He played in the jazz band, took part in the Nassau County Musical Festival and was a member of the Tri-M Music Honor Society. He was named to the National Junior Honor Society and the National Honor Society, played on the chess club, and participated in a regional Quiz Bowl.
Buzzolani also took in various charity walks, and tutored othier students in music and chemistry. He earned the Bausch & Lomb Honorary Science Award, the St. Michaels College Book Award for Academic Achievement and Social Conscience, and was also the winner of East Rockaway’s first Research Symposiam science program at Hofstra University.
Board of Education Trustee Patti Nicoletti, who is retiring, also addressed the class, and told the graduates that she had one more quiz for them. She asked them to name six people who won the Pulitzer Prize, the five wealthiest people in the world and the last five Heisman Trophy winners. She then asked them to name two teachers who gave their time to aid them on their journey, three friends who helped them through a difficult time and two people who would never judge them.
“The point is, you really don’t remember the headliners of yesterday, despite the fact that they’re the best in their fields,” Nicoletti said. “The people who make a lasting difference in your life, or have the most influence, aren’t the ones with the most credentials, the most money or the most awards. They’re simply the ones who care about you the most.”
Superintendent Lisa Ruiz said the new graduates had technology at their fingertips, and should use it for good. “The wonder of technology brings with it the promise and the power to create positive change,” she said. “The future is truly in your hands. I’m counting on you. Your families, teachers and peers are counting on you. Future generations are counting on you to make this world a better place.”