“The Bruinator.” That’s how class of 2014 Salutatorian Maria Hidalgo referred to the four-year “roller coaster” of attending North Bergen High School. “It’ll knock the wind right out of you,” she said, “adrenaline coursing through your veins.”
Hidalgo said those words at the graduation ceremony at 10 a.m. on Friday, June 27 at Bruins Stadium in James J. Braddock Park.
A total of 605 students from the senior class received their diplomas that day, while an energized audience of friends and family crowded the bleachers, wildly cheering them on.
The class received more than $2 million in scholarships, grants, and financial aid.
Their day in the sun
“Like each of the graduates sitting before me, I have spent these last few years as a proud North Bergen Bruin,” said class valedictorian Hannah Reichert. “However, my transition was a little different from any of yours.”
Reichert, who was adopted from China at the age of one, was home-schooled through the eighth grade. “I was the only student. A class of one, so to speak. And my mother was the only teacher. My childhood revolved around my education, and it was pretty sheltered. This prepared me academically but I still had many more lessons to learn. Lessons that I would learn at North Bergen High School.”
At NBHS she had to learn for the first time how to fit in and work with others. “Over the next four years you all have become my extended family and helped me on this journey of discovery,” she said.
A member of the National Honor Society, the Environmental Club, Math Club, recipient of the Principals Academic Award and other accolades, Reichert achieved a GPA of 4.675. She will be attending Trinity College in the fall on a full scholarship, majoring in science.
The 605 students who graduated on June 27 received more than $2 million in scholarships, grants, and financial aid.
Salutatorian Maria Hidalgo had the second highest GPA in the graduating class at 4.58. A member of the National Honor Society, Bruins Bard Club, Paw Prints Club, and recipient of the Principals Academic Award, she will be attending Rowan College on a scholarship, majoring in communications.
Class President Anissa Rago received the Principals Academic Award and was a member of the National Honor Society and Key Club. She was also President of the Future Lawyers Club. With a GPA of 4.4 she will be attending East Stroudsburg University, majoring in education and counseling.
Other colleges and universities the graduates will attend include New York University, Drew University, Rutgers, Ohio State, Penn State, Stevens Institute of Technology, Wesleyan, Pratt, Fordham, Vassar, Montclair State, and the College of New Jersey.
Student Venelis Rubio concluded the graduation ceremony by sharing her reflections on the class’ years together, summing up the feelings of many when she said, “As I prepare to leave North Bergen High School I’m faced with conflicting emotions. I cannot wait to leave but I am so sad to go.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. George Solter was among the school and town officials who stood at the podium to share his experience, advice, and congratulations with the class, counseling them to “Please remember, education opens doors, but perseverance and hard work get you through those doors.”
Other speakers included Mayor Nicholas Sacco and School Principal Paschal “Pat” Tennaro. Imam Mohammad Alhayek of the North Hudson Islamic Education Center provided the invocation, and Father Yuvan of Our Lady of Fatima Church the benediction.
Masters of ceremony were Kimberly Rodriguez and Alex Ortega, with Maulik Patel and Henna R. Shah introducing the guests. The North Bergen High School banner was carried by Amanda M. Cabrera, Mohammad Fardos, Alisha L. Gonzalez, Kailey Stark, and Dominick Trautz.
Gabrielle E. Muguerza led the salute to the flag, with the National Anthem sung by Angel M. Boyd, Dayna Iglesias, Gabrielle E. Muguerza, Javiera Nunez, Zoilary Paulino, Stephanie M. Peguero, and Kimberly Rodriguez.
While Board of Education President Julio Marenco awarded the diplomas, assisted by Juan D. Lopez Perez and Karen Miranda, flowers were distributed to graduates by Catherine Fernandez, Gracia Martinez, Sergio Montalvo Miranda, and Orlando Trespalacios.
As a parting gift, the class of 2014 presented the school with a new podium, announced by Class President Anissa L. Rago, Vice President Natalia Vazallo, Secretary Michelle Alvarez, and Treasurer Andreea Toro.
“I’ve been principal 24 years,” said Tennaro. “Project Graduation started 23 years ago. We started it to provide a safe, drug and alcohol-free environment for our kids to celebrate.”
Noting that North Bergen has a large population of students whose parents are in other countries, and that graduation night is traditionally a dangerous time, with students partying and accidents occurring, Tennaro established Project Graduation to give the kids a secure place to spend the night.
After graduation ends around noon, the students go home to spend the afternoon celebrating with their families. Then at 7:30 they return to the high school, where they are searched and undergo a breathalyzer test to ensure they haven’t been drinking.
Then it’s off for a night of fun.
This year, Tennaro said, “We had a motorcade with 15 school buses, three North Bergen police cars, two North Bergen motorcycles, and two New York Port Authority police cars. Port Authority police tell me the motorcade is better than Obama’s.”
Traffic at the Lincoln Tunnel was stopped to allow the caravan to cross into New York, where the kids had a couple of hours to celebrate at Chelsea Piers. “We rent out the entire place,” explained Dr. Solter, with approximately 60 faculty members accompanying the kids as chaperones.
Then it was back in the buses for a ride through the tunnel (again closed) and up to Dave and Buster’s in Nyack, where they were provided with a buffet dinner and unlimited game cards to play while videos of their senior year unspooled on all the screens.
“At about 4 a.m. we serve breakfast, then come back to high school,” said Tennaro.
The event is funded by money raised throughout the year by students and teachers, holding bake sales, car washes, and other events. This year a total of $67,000 was raised.
After paying the bills, any remaining money goes back to the students. On the bus home, raffles were held and about 60 $100 gift certificates were given out. Then at about 6:15 they arrived back at the school for the last time and everyone went home.
Attendance is not mandatory, but encouraged. “I had 530 students attend out of 605 grads,” said Tennaro. “Some for religious reasons cannot attend. The majority all students want to attend. It’s great fun.”
Most important, “In the 23 years have done this, I know we have prevented many injuries and deaths,” he said.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.