"We have an exceptional senior class that is academically outstanding," said North Bergen High School Principal Paschal H. Tennaro. "I'm impressed with the quality of the students. Their respect for themselves, their families, and the school is reflected in everything they do."
He added, "They're also outstanding in athletics, music and the arts, and are very excited about graduation." The students also got a treat: Project Graduation experience. Project Graduation is the statewide program that encourages kids to enjoy a night of graduation activities drug-free and alcohol-free.
Tennaro was not at liberty to divulge the location, but last year's grads enjoyed an evening of food, fun, and festivities at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan.
First and second in the class
Student standouts include valedictorian Rene Lopez and salutatorian Maulik Shah.
Lopez, who is headed to Rutgers in the fall, said, "I'm leaning toward business and accounting - math was my favorite subject."
"My teachers helped me a lot during the four years," he added. "I took AP and honors courses and prepared very well for my exams."
Contemplating what he will say in his speech to his fellow students, he said, "I will talk about the challenges and the struggles the class went through, the difficult courses, and the balancing of school and extracurricular activities."
He added, "The class of 2008 is very diverse and well-rounded in academics, sports, and a variety of activities." Lopez's full plate of activities included National Honor Society, Key Club, Italian Club, and math club.
He also has three younger brothers who will be making their way through the North Bergen school system. "I am the first one in my immediate family to go to college," he said. "My parents are very excited and let me know it each and every day."
He added, "My whole family is deep in their faith. I feel very strongly about my beliefs as a Christian. I go to church frequently and thank God for my many accomplishments."
He said he plans to carry this belief through college.
But what does the future hold?
"I'm thinking of becoming a certified public accountant," he said.
Is there a doctor in the house?
Salutatorian Maulik Shah, who will attend the College of New Jersey in the fall, has his sights set on science.
"I took advanced placement in biology, I want to be a biology major and then go into medicine," he said. Plastic surgery and orthopedics are the two specialties that appeal to him most. "My cousin is an orthopedic surgeon," he said. "I see what he does, and that is something that interests me."
Shah said he volunteers with a local ambulance squad and is now a certified Emergency Medical Technician. "I volunteered with the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps and have applied to North Bergen," he said.
He added, "It will be good experience when I'm a doctor to see so many different things, and I like helping people. It can be frightening at first until you get used to it, but once you're certified and have experience, you get used to it."
Shah has high praise for North Bergen High.
"It's very diverse," he said. "You can meet anyone from any background. There are so many people and you learn many different new things about them and can fit in with anyone. It's just a good learning environment. The teachers are friendly and willing to help."
Not all of Shah's time was spent on academics.
"I was on the bowling team, the tennis team, Key Club, environmental club, the human relations club, and the student council executive board," he said.
Shah also spent time recently working on his speech.
"Whether people are going to college or working, I hope they all push and strive and fulfill whatever dreams they have," Shah said. "In my speech I want to congratulate them for getting this far, they have a lot ahead of them, they need to keep their heads ups and keep pushing toward that dream."
Evolving and changing
Patricia R. Brando, the 12th grade vice principal, has been with this group of students since they were freshmen, so she has seen them change over the years.
"There's been so much growth," she said recently. "They've progressed and grown up and become young women and young men."
She added, "Close to 80 percent are going on to college, junior colleges, or four-year colleges. They have great test scores and are really good kids. These kids have been dedicated to the school and given their time and effort to help us with Project Graduation by running car washes."
And what of the next step?
"It was so competitive to get into college," she said. "They had to face a lot of obstacles and what they learned at North Bergen is perseverance."
This was reflected in a full roster of scholarships and awards. There were 15 Benchmark Scholars, 20 Urban Scholars, four Edward J. Bloustein Distinguished Scholars, 31 students who earned SAT scores of 1600 or above (out of a possible 2400), seven President's Awards for Educational Achievement, 19 President's Awards for Educational Excellence, 17 First Honors students, and 21 Second Honors students.
The North Bergen High School graduation is scheduled for Braddock Park at 10:30 a.m. on June 20. If it rains, graduation will be held in the high school gymnasium.