“Hailey Rae Pedisich.”
When the graduate’s name was called, a first-year Board of Education member — not an administrator — stood up and grabbed a diploma folder.
Natalie Pedisich, Hailey’s mother, presented her daughter, the youngest of her three children, with the green folder emblazoned with “Seaford High School,” and embraced her as other graduates and the crowd applauded.
“It was one of the best moments of my life short of bringing my children home,” Natalie Pedisich said afterward, choking up.
She was just one of many proud parents in the Nassau Community College gymnasium on Sunday: The families of 178 Seaford High seniors helped them celebrate the school’s 61st annual commencement, along with guest speakers U.S. Rep. Peter King; his daughter, Hempstead Town Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney (Seaford High class of 1991); State Sen. John Brooks (class of ’68) and County Legislator Steve Rhoads.
In her speech, salutatorian Annalore LaGrassa juxtaposed how she and her classmates grew in high school to the transformation of the world around them. While they had the chance to learn what they were passionate about over the course of four years, she said, people around the world became frightened to do what they love.
With that in mind, she encouraged her fellow graduates not only to follow their hearts, but also to bring positive change to places around the world where there is violence and hatred. “Our voices are more powerful than ever,” LaGrassa said. “The type of inequality and violence found in the world today will end because of our generation.”
Her friend Jordan Ament, the valedictorian, offered a similar message, highlighting how the graduates had found their voices over the past four years. Through challenges they faced, he explained, he and his classmates learned much about themselves. Although they may not all know what they will do in the future, Ament said, their time in high school helped them understand their own values, which they will continue to explore as they mature.
“You found your voice,” he added, “so speak. Use your voice to shine a light on the things you are passionate about, and speak unapologetically. Stand up for what you believe in, and use your voice to spread a positive and constructive message of love, acceptance and inclusion.”
Before the two students spoke, Principal Scott Bersin recalled the day last September when Gian Paul Gonzalez, a motivational speaker who inspired the New York Giants during their 2011 Super Bowl run, visited the school. Bersin asked the graduates if any of them had the “All In” poker chips they had received at Gonzalez’s talk, but was disappointed to learn that none of them had brought them to the ceremony.
Undaunted, Bersin said they would all be given another token at the end of the ceremony. The theme of this one, he explained, was “Paying It Forward.” He charged the graduating class to do good with their talents, and to write how they want to give back to those in their community on that token.
“I’m thankful for all of you,” he said before offering the seniors his congratulations. “You’ve created a great tone in our school — welcoming, inviting. I can’t say anything more about that, but thank you.”
Twin graduates Jenna and Julia Siler, who will both play basketball for SUNY Cortland next season, made a lasting mark on the Seaford community. The Silers helped the Vikings girls’ basketball team to an impressive 19-2 record this season. But perhaps their most notable assists during their high school careers took place far from the hardwood.
Since 2014, Jenna and Julia have helped their mother, Karen, with her charity Karen’s Hope, which provides housing and living assistance for those with developmental disabilities — like the twins’ 27-year-old brother, Ryan, who has autism. Over the past four years, the two have arrived hours before Karen’s Hope fundraisers to set up, and have help around the house when their mother was busy with the work of the foundation.
“They have always been there, right from the beginning,” Karen said after the ceremony. “I couldn’t do it without all of them, and that’s the truth. If I didn’t have the support of my kids, my mom and husband, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Although Jenna and Julia will soon be 250 miles upstate, attending college classes and playing basketball, both said they remained ready to help their mother and their hometown whenever they get a call. “It will be hard to come back to visit and help her,” Julia said, “but if we come home from break and she has a fundraiser, we’re obviously going to be there for help.”
“It’s going to be hard,” Jenna added, “but whenever she needs help, we’re just a phone call away.”