For one, the packed auditorium did not have to endure stifling heat. A late afternoon thunderstorm cooled the temperatures considerably, making the usually sweltering and unbearable auditorium more manageable. It felt more like a spring afternoon than a late June evening. The setting was perfect and was noticed by everyone in attendance.
Another difference was the size of the graduating class, which only had 50 members, one of the smallest senior classes in recent memory. The results was a quaint gathering of excited students and proud parents, family and friends.
But there was no denying the enormousness of the accomplishments of the students, an impressive collection of achievers who definitely made the most of their time spent in the Weehawken school district.
The 50 graduates, headed by valedictorian Omar Elangbawy and salutatorian Julissa Rodriguez, featured 14 members of the National Honor Society. They collectively garnered scholarships, grants and financial aid totaling nearly $1.6 million. They received acceptances to prestigious universities like Penn, Dartmouth and Michigan State, as well as locally respected institutions like Stevens Tech, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rutgers and St. Peter's College.
It was a class of overachievers, in some respects, but achievers all the same.
Elangbawy, who will attend the University of Pennsylvania, focused on the impressive achievements of the class during his valedictory address.
"We were able to find our goals and attain them, because someone was always there to guide us," Elangbawy said. "The fine teachers we had allowed us to become individuals. They allowed us to achieve. As we all move on over the next four years, we will meet new friends and new challenges. But we must uphold the values that were instilled in us here."
Rodriguez, who will attend Dartmouth, spoke fondly of the memories and the good times the students shared together, many whom had been together for the full 13 years of their respective educations.
There was an endless array of academic and civic award presentations given by people from all walks of the community. Elangbawy collected four awards - the Academic Award, significant of being the top member of the graduating class; the Science Award; the Social Science Award; and the Math League Award.
Graduate Yuny Lee received three academic awards - the Business Award, the Math League Award and the Foreign Language Award for Latin. She will attend the University of Connecticut in the fall.
Among the groups that made presentations in forms of scholarship grants included UBS PaineWebber and Operations Management International, as well as the Weehawken Elks, the American Legion, the Christopher Columbus Foundation of Hudson County, and the Women's Club of North Hudson.
There were also 10 different scholarship presentations made in memory of deceased patrons who wanted to have funds from their respective estates directed toward the educational betterment of the graduating class. Current faculty members, memorializing deceased members of their respective families, made some presentations as well.
Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner presented scholarship awards to graduates Penelope Santana and Gabriel Garcia on behalf of the Weehawken and You Civic Association.
"This class is just another example that Weehawken students don't just compete anymore; they excel," Turner said. "It shows that we have a superb school system. The list of students going to great universities is astounding. Everyone deserves congratulations - the students, the teachers and the parents and guardians - for a job well done."
The Weehawken Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Steve Spinosa, entertained the audience with two toe-tapping numbers, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," and "Zoot Suit Riot," with several of the graduates performing with the ensemble for the last time.
It was an emotional evening for the graduates, their families and their friends. The Class of 2002 might have been a small group, but their achievements were certainly of the grand proportions.