On a hot, windy day last Friday, 375 members of Baldwin High School’s class of 2022 filed into their seats on the school’s football field at noon. Looking on from the bleachers were proud parents, relatives and friends.
Valedictorian Peighton Lotwis, who is headed to Yale University in the fall, summed up the graduates’ four-year experience nicely in her address: “On September 4, 2018, we walked through the halls of this high school back here for the first time as smaller, fairly peculiar freshman full of ambition and brimming with curiosity.”
Although the students would experience challenges they hadn’t encountered in middle school, they rose to the occasion and exceeded most expectations, with landmark achievements and accolades despite a terrifying and unprecedented global pandemic.
“We took that deep breath and we pushed forward anyway,” Lotwis said. “That’s a phrase that aptly summarizes our time here. We pushed forward anyway.”
And they succeeded despite the odds. “We pushed forward for four years,” she said, “despite the pandemic, despite moments of fear and unrest, despite tragedy, disaster, relentless personal struggle, we pushed forward, we made it — you made it, and you deserve to be celebrated for that.”
Salutatorian Jasmine Bisht, who will attend Sophie Davis Biomedical Educational Program/CUNY School of Medicine this fall, also spoke of the pandemic, and how she and her peers had not only persisted, but become better adults because of it.
“Along the way, our generation proved that we will not stand for ignorance or prejudice,” Bisht said. “We take this vigor and continue to be fearless when expressing our thoughts and taking a stand for what we believe is right.”
They should never forget what they learned in Baldwin schools, she added. “As we enter this new phase of our lives, we mustn’t forget where we came from, and remember the values of what it means to be a Baldwin Bruin.”
Baldwin High Principal Dr. Neil Testa gave an emotional speech honoring two members of the staff who recently died, who had influenced a generation: Anna Suarez, who taught math for more than 20 years, and coach Anthony Bolden, a member of the class of 2000 and an educator for over a decade.
Testa then posed a question to the audience. “So, in memory of them,” he said, “let’s all pledge an obligation, from this day forward, to determine the kind of influence you want, and how you will carry it out. What will your influence be? Who will you model it after? Will it be Anna Suarez or Anthony Bolden, or a parent, relative or friend?”
Testa said he had modeled his life after Neil Armstrong after his legendary walk on the moon, saying he wanted to be all the things Armstrong was described as — smart, strong, caring, reliable, resilient and selfless.
Superintendent Shari L. Camhi complimented the graduating seniors. “What is most amazing is their resilience, stamina and ability to continue,” she said. “What they we have been through has been hard and daunting at times.”
Adding that every day is an opportunity to act differently, be different and change, Camhi said, “If I could change the past, I would. Life is not ideal. It never was. It is full of hills and valleys with ups and downs, but that’s life. How we choose to react, how we choose to grow is solely up to us, but we move on, we get a fresh start every new day.”