Thousands of well-wishers crowded the large room to cheer on the graduates, as they paraded under arches of red and while balloons and settled into chairs in front of dignitaries that included principals, vice principals, members of the school board, and the prestigious Circle of Ten and other students earning top honors this year.
The graduating Class of 2013, according to Schools Superintendent Dr. Patricia McGeehan, qualified for more than $17 million in offers of scholarships and grants.
In addressing the graduates, McGreehan said they were leaving the school with a legacy of success.
“Along with your academics, you have learned to understand yourselves,” McGeehan said. “This class has also had numerous acceptances to prestigious colleges and universities. To mention a few, Harvard, Princeton, Cornell, Dartmouth, Boston College, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago, NJIT, and many, many more.”
She said this class excelled not only in sports, but in performance and visual arts, competing at county and state levels.
“You, the Class of 2013, are a credit to your parents, a credit to yourself, and a credit to the City of Bayonne,” McGeehan said. “As you say farewell to us, you are saying hello to tomorrow. This evening you are receiving the right key—a diploma—to open up the door until tomorrow.”
This year’s Valedictorian Award went to Jan-alfred Aquino, who ranked first in a graduating class of 592 students. The Salutatorian Award went to Shivangi Parmar. They are the top two members of a group called “The Circle of Ten” or the top academic achievers in the Class of 2013.
Retain your memories
Aquino, in his valedictorian address, commented on the heat in the room, laughing as he deviated from his speech, “Imagine wearing a gown on top of what you’re wearing.”
Then, he opened his speech with a joke, drawing as many moans as laughs, although clearly gaining the attention of his classmates, who cheered him on.
“Let’s look back at our times at Bayonne High School,” he said, calling it a time of significant change. “Imagine yourself four years ago. Think of all the people you still did not meet. What would we be without them? Now, picture yourself today. Consider how much better you are today than you were four years ago.”
He said to consider how they have changed and why.
“Graduates, the changes that are within ourselves are beyond what we can control,” he said. “It is said, changes in our character are shaped by those around us: our friends, our family, and our role models. They have taught us right from wrong. They have instilled in us the values we see as noble and honorable.”
These are the people with whom the graduates have shared countless memories, he said.
“Memories that will undoubtedly last a lifetime as we grow old and wiser,” he said. “They have contributed to our development from adolescence to responsible young adults.”
Quoting a popular song, he said, “people come into our lives for a reason, there is something we must learn.”
And that this is a mutual effort. He said that teachers at Bayonne High School were exceedingly helpful in his development.
In concluding, he said, “Let me give you advice. Be a seed so that you can influence others in the same way others have influenced you.”
He added, “Live, love, and laugh. Cherish the friends you have made here and always remember what you did here and appreciate those who have helped you along the way. Do something you love and always remember to look back.”
A place at the table
Although Mayor Mark Smith could not attend, Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell spoke on his behalf.
“There are many people to thank here, your teachers, who took you on a four-year journey, on a journey from childhood to manhood or womanhood, your administrators, your superintendent. There are people in the room that are responsible for your being here tonight, you moms, your dads, your grandmothers and your granddads, aunts, and uncles as well,” O’Donnell said.
Recalling his own time graduating from Bayonne High School, O’Donnell said “As I look out at you this evening, you are perched on the brink of the rest of your lives. You should do great things in the future. Move on, grow, but never forget where you came from. No matter where you end up in life, right here in New Jersey, in another state, or even another country, never forget that you are from Bayonne, New Jersey—where people still say hello to their neighbors, where churches are still full on Sundays, and Christians, Muslims and Jews sit together in classrooms for the common goal of educating themselves for the betterment of themselves.”
He said as they move on, they should never forget that they have the right to be here.
“You are entitled to have your say as much as anybody else,” he said. “No doubt you’re going to have to fight for a seat at the table but don’t be denied.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.