Nearly 800 seniors graduated from Union City High School two weeks ago, while 384 graduated from Memorial High School in West New York.
In Union City, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner served as the keynote speaker.
At the Union City ceremony Tuesday, June 24, UCHS Principal John Bennetti described the class as “close” and “a family,” adding with a smile, “We love them.”
It was a sentiment shared by throngs of family and friends, in excess of 3,000, who erupted during a standing ovation four years in the making.
Among the Union City seniors was class valedictorian Kevin Romero, to whom Principal Bennetti presented the Waterford Valedictorian Award in memory of Sal Edward Tieri Jr., a victim of 9/11.
Kevin plans to study physics at Princeton University. In his address, he compared life with something to which all his classmates could relate – food.
“How I see it is that there is no difference in the process of making a sandwich, and growing up,” Romero said. He gave a twist on an old line from Forrest Gump: “Life is a sandwich. You get what you want, mostly,” eliciting laughs from the crowd. He continued by comparing bread to the foundation of life, representing “childhood, and the guardians who raised us to be full-fledged sandwiches.”
“Whether we’re whole wheat, garlic, or Italian bread, we thank you,” Romero said, referencing the diversity of the class.
First in family to graduate
The ceremony took on special significance to Salutatorian Douglas Villalta, the first member of his family to graduate from high school, and who will attend Brown University in September. Villalta said his experiences at Union City High School have been a “privilege,” and he is “proud to represent the school.” He echoed the words of the valedictorian when he said, “Effort definitely pays off.”
In his remarks to classmates, Villalta advised classmates to: “Let us absorb every moment, and never forget where we have come from as we go on to do great things.”
When speaking about the diverse academic achievements of his students, Principal Bennetti proudly said, “We have students going on to a wide range of things. Some are going to community college, and some are going Ivy League.
He added that it’s the school’s staff, to which he referred as, “high quality” and “committed professionals” who were major contributors to the wide-ranging success of the class.
Other highlights of the ceremony included a rousing rendition of “Seasons of Love” from the 1996 Broadway musical, “Rent,” performed by the school chorus, and the keynote address delivered by New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, who reminded students that “Education is the most important thing in our society, because it gives us a chance to advance.”
A mother’s inspiration
Among the parents in the audience was the mother of Chief Justice Rabner. Her son cited her experiences of overcoming adversity faced as a woman born in Eastern Europe during World War II. He noted his mother eventually “found a home in America” where she now spends her days feeding those in need. He used his mother’s story to remind the graduating class of the “importance of having a positive outlook in life, and the importance of believing in yourself.”
He continued, “Don’t take for granted how fortunate we are. Have the strength to start over again without complaint, with optimism – that’s the choice staring in your face.”
In concluding his address to the graduates, Principal Bennetti stated, “You have given me an amazing year…You will always have a home here.”
Before the ceremony, parents such as Maria Canaveral, speaking through an interpreter, described the excitement of the graduation of her son, Mario Canaveral, as “Very happy and very joyful.”
In West New York, the 384 students graduated on Monday, June 23, the day before Union City graduation was held. The valedictorian was Genesis Roman. Salutatorians were Ismael Gonzalez and Silveri Castillo.